Industrial zones in Gazipur, Savar and parts of the capital turned into battlefields on Monday as readymade garment workers clashed with police and blocked roads, demanding a living wage.
An Ansar camp was looted while at least 115 vehicles and 10 factories were vandalised, forcing the authorities to close over 100 apparel units for the day.
The clashes left over 140 people injured.
Sporadic demonstrations over the week demanding minimum monthly wages of Tk8,000 erupted into violence on Monday, when a group of youths attacked an Ansar camp at Joydevpur, Gazipur and looted firearms and ammunition. Four Ansar members including a commander were injured in the sudden attack and were admitted to a hospital in Uttara, Dhaka.
Negotiations for raised wages failed to reach a conclusion, with workers’ representatives asking for a minimum wage of Tk8,000 and factory owners offering Tk3,600, resulting in frustration among workers’ rights groups.
Mosharraf Hossain, assistant superintendent of Gazipur Industrial Police, said authorities decided to suspend production at most of the factories in Gazipur on Monday.
Most of the apparel units in Tejgaon industrial area also remained closed, as workers engaged in clashes with police and torched two microbuses and a motorcycle there.
Vehicular movement through the Dhaka-Mymensingh and Dhaka-Aricha highways remained suspended for nearly four hours in the morning, as the apparel workers put barricades at different points in Tongi and Savar. They also damaged at least 115 vehicles on the highways.
The demonstrating workers also vandalised at least six RMG units on Dhaka-Tangail Highway in Gazipur's Konabari, and several others in Savar.
“They make huge profits. When we demand our wages, they say we are not worth that much,” said Sabuj Hawlader, a swing operator of Diganta Sweaters’ Factory in Konabari, Gazipur.
The workers said expenses had gone beyond their reach and they had no choice but realise the demand for higher wages at any cost.
Workers from three garment factories attacked an Ansar camp in the Bhogra Bypass area in Joydevpur around 8:30am, looting eight rifles and 135 bullets, and leaving four Ansar member injured. The attackers, whom the Ansar authorities described as outsiders, later set fire to four of the arms on the campsite.
The remaining four rifles were later found in roadside shrubs and bushes, said Ansar and Village Defence Party (VDP) Officer of Gazipur Sadar upazila Noor Mohammad.
The bullets remained missing.
Our Gazipur correspondent reports, workers of Rose Knitting and Sumon Textile Limited went to an adjacent RMG unit – Colosus Apparel Limited – and asked their fellows to come out after 8:00am. They jointly attacked the nearby Ansar camp with sticks and bamboo and looted the rifles and bullets.
Apan Mollah, 40 – commander of the camp – and three of his colleagues – Alamgir Hossain, 28; Mahalam, 23; and Abu Raihan – were injured in the attack.
The violence on the streets had started around 8:30am, when over 10,000 workers from various garments factories had gathered on the Dhaka-Mymensingh Highway in Tongi equipped with sticks and bamboo, police said.
The angry workers had vandalised at least 100 vehicles in Chandona, Bhogra, Bason, Borobari, Pagarh on Dhaka-Mymensingh Highway, and Konabari on Dhaka-Tangail highway, said Iqbal Hossain, sergeant of Naojor Highway Police.
Six police officers were among the 35 people injured in clashes in the Karnapara, Ulail and Savar Bus Stand areas on Dhaka-Aricha Highway on Monday. At least five buses were damaged on the highway. Authorities had announced suspension of work at 11 factories, industrial police said.
Moniruzzaman, a sub-inspector of Tongi Police Station said, at one stage the law enforcers had been compelled to charge batons and fire teargas shells, rubber bullets and gunshots at the agitating workers in a bid to free the highway. The clash left more than 100 workers injured.
According to police and witnesses, 17 of the injured workers were rushed to Tongi Upazila Health Complex with bullet wounds.
Of them, 12 victims were shifted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) in critical condition.
In the capital, workers from several factories gathered at Nabisco Crossing in Tejgaon and hurled brick chips at the roadside factories. They also torched two microbuses and a motorcycle parked in front of Ha-Meem Group factory's gate.
Agitating workers vandalised at least four vehicles on the Tejgaon-Gulshan Link Road, halting traffic in the adjacent areas during the morning rush hours.
Police had fired 20 shotgun rounds and lobbed teargas shells to bring the situation under control, said Mohammad Moniruzzaman, officer in-charge of Tejgaon Industrial Area Police Station.
In Mohakhali, garment workers from around 15 apparel factories blocked the road and vandalised a number of vehicles at Amtoli intersection. Five workers had sustained injuries during the clash with police, said Officer-in-Charge of Mohakhali Police Camp Mahbub Hasan.
Workers also blocked roads in the capital's Badda.