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One Dead, Dozens Injured in Bangladeshi Worker Protest

Police in Bangladesh used water cannons, tear gas and batons to disperse 100,000 striking garment workers who were blocking roads, throwing bricks and burning tires on Wednesday during a fourth consecutive day of demands for higher wages in the capital of Dhaka.

The government of Bangladesh, the world’s second-largest garment exported behind China, said on Tuesday it would consider demands for an increase in minimum wage on Tuesday after scuffles between police and protestors killed one worker and injured 50.

But protestors continued to pour into the the streets of the industrial district of Savar, where the deadly 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza still casts a long shadow. More than two dozen people, including police, were injured the next day, according to police and trade union leaders.

“Police at first tried to convince them through discussions and requested them to leave the roads so that transport can move easily, but instead they threw stones and bricks,” Tahmidul Islam, a police officer in the area told Reuters. “So to disperse them police used tear gas. Now the situation is under control and the workers have left.”

Though similar protests occured in tandem in the Mirpur area of Dhaka, they avoided violence, police noted.

In September, Bangladeshi officials said the minimum wage for garment workers would rise by up to 51 percent this year to 8,000 taka ($95) a month, the first significant increase since 2013. Workers claim, however, that the pay hike would only benefit a small percentage of the 3.5 million people the garment sector employs. It also fails to compensate for the lack of wage improvements over the past five years.

Shefali Begum, a protesting worker, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that workers want at least 16,000 taka ($191) per month. “They give us nothing,” he said. “Right now, our salaries are the same as for helpers hired to assist us.”

Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi told Reuters on Tuesday that he hoped a resolution could be reached in a month. The government has convened a panel of factory owners, union leaders and officials to investigate the pay demands.

Bangladesh’s garment industry generates roughly $30 billion in exports per year and accounts for 80 percent of the South Asian country’s merchandise export earnings. It makes clothing for some of the biggest retailers in the world, including H&M, Uniqlo and Zara.