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Bangladesh garment workers world's most poorly paid: Survey

world Updated: Jun 20, 2010 13:58 IST

Bangladesh's garment sector workers are "the world's most poorly paid" and their rights are being abused increasingly, an international trade union body has said.

Poor wages and working conditions, and refusal of the factory owners to honour wage agreements are also leading to frequent violence, Vienna-based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) said in a global survey released in Dhaka on Saturday.

Absence of trade unions is adding to the problem, it said.

At least 100 people were injured and 10 factories and 15 vehicles vandalised on Saturday in clashes between the police and apparel workers, rallying for increased wages at Jamgara, Narsinghpur and Nishchintapur of Ashulia in Dhaka.

Most of the injuries were from rubber bullets fired by the police, the New Age reported.

In 2009, six garment workers were killed in attacks by police or company security guards during strikes or protests linked to wage demands.

"Bangladesh is another black spot on the Asian continent in terms of the number of workers murdered for establishing their rights," the ITUC said.

The government last year announced that it would facilitate establishing trade unions in each garment unit. But the employers and their collectives expressed serious reservations.

Readymade garments and knitwear exports fetch Bangladesh the highest export earnings. They stood at $12 billion in 2009.

The entirely private sector, running partly with foreign investment, employs three million workers, mostly women.

Bangladesh had a national emergency and an army-backed, unelected government in office during 2007-08.

The ITUC report observed that lifting of emergency raised hopes for an improvement in the situation for the Bangladesh trade union movement and better economic conditions for workers, but nothing has changed.

Experts New Age spoke to suggested that the government has to "be strong enough to enforce the labour rights related laws and conventions against the errant garment factory owners".

Besides working conditions for workers, safety conditions are also poor, leading to accidents.

Hong Kong Garments, a factory located in Dhaka, was gutted in a fire that took place on Thursday night.

Protests, road blockades by garment workers and clashes with police take place almost every day in Dhaka and its suburbs like Gazirpur, Savar and Narayanganj over the demand for increasing the minimum wage, Bangladesh Trade Union Centre secretary Wazedul Islam Khan said.