Hundreds of garment workers in Bangladesh have been sacked after demanding higher wages and launching demonstrations. More such action is expected against workers from several factories in Ashulia, a suburb near capital Dhaka, from where clothes for big Western brands such as Zara, Gap and H&M are produced.
More than 1,600 workers, who were part of the protests which led to a week-long shutdown, have been terminated at dozens of factories. Tens of thousands of such garment workers took to the streets in the manufacturing hub of Ashulia demanding nearly triple their current wages – which is 5,300 taka (£54, $67) per month. The wages were last raised in November 2013.
"The number is expected to rise," said Mostafizur Rahman, a local leader. However, the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation pegged the sacked number at about 3,500.
The protests that began when 121 workers were removed from work gradually snowballed into demonstrations seeking better wages. Bangladeshi authorities said the rallies were illegal and arrested dozens of demonstrators. One reporter who is known to extensively cover the wage problem in the industry has also been arrested by the police for "inciting unrest".
Several lawmakers and officials attempted to hold talks with the protesters but their efforts were in vain. The protests had led to 55 factories shutting down on 20 December despite the upcoming busy shopping season due to Christmas and New Year.
"All the factories have resumed their operations. Some 90% of the workers have joined work. Around 1,500 workers have been sacked [by the owners]. The owners have filed five cases against the unruly workers," senior police official Nur Nabi told AFP.
This is not the first time the $30bn-worth industry – a key contributor to the Bangladeshi economy and employment – is facing serious trouble. The garment sector is often accused of poor pay and working conditions. The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in 2013 in which over 1,100 workers were killed has only intensified the outrage.