(AFP) – Apr 12, 2008
DHAKA (AFP) — About 20,000 workers rioted over high food prices and low wages on Saturday close to the Bangladesh capital Dhaka, police said, amid spreading global unrest over soaring grocery costs.
Police fired tear gas and used batons to break up the protests and at least 50 people were injured, most of them police officers.
About 20,000 textile workers from more than a dozen factories went on the rampage in Fatullah, 20 kilometres (12 miles) south of Dhaka, demanding better pay amid soaring rice prices, police chief Bhuiyan Mahbub Hasan said.
Police said they wrecked cars and buses, vandalised factories and hurled bricks and stones at police.
"They became unruly demanding higher wages, saying their current wages don't even meet basic food needs," police sub-inspector Shafiqul Islam said.
Hasan said representatives of the manufacturers, labour and the military would meet in an attempt to defuse the unrest.
The riots came after the government said food prices, notably rice, which is a staple in Bangladesh, had doubled in the past year due to a massive production shortfall after devastating floods and a cyclone.
The price of rice is a key issue in impoverished Bangladesh, where households are estimated to spend nearly 70 percent of their income on food.
The Bangladesh violence came amid mounting unrest globally over soaring food costs.
At least five people have died in similar protests over high food and fuel prices in Haiti, while disturbances have rocked Egypt, Cameroon, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries in the past month.
The country's food minister said early this month that the domestic grain output shortfall and global food price rises had created a "hidden hunger" in the country and that it had intensified in recent months.
The country's garment manufacturers and the unions said the workers are badly hit as they earn some of the lowest salaries in the world.
The basic minimum monthly salary of a garment worker is only 25 dollars.
"The 25 dollars basic minimum salary was fixed in 2006. But since then prices of rice and other food items have doubled or tripled," said Nazma Akhter, president of the United Garments Workers Union.
"With our poor salary, it is now impossible to buy three meals a day. Some of us are even going hungry some days," said Jamal Uddin, a sweater machine operator, who earns 30 dollars a month.
Akhter said the workers have been demanding salary raises from the owners, but "they rejected our pleas. Foreign buyers have even cut the prices of our items in the recent months."
Last month, the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association urged the government to distribute subsidised rice to 2.5 million workers, fearing the food price hike could cause unrest in the industry.
"We know their pain and how difficult the situation is. But if you see the prices we got for export, you'll be amazed to find out the buyers are now cutting their offer prices," said association president Anwar ul Alam Chowdhury Parvez.
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