Bangladesh garment factories reopen after clashes

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) - More than 200 Bangladesh garment factories reopened Thursday after the country's prime minister stepped in to resolve clashes over minimum wages.

The end of the 4-day shutdown came after factory owners met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina late Wednesday and agreed to a 77 percent increase in the minimum wage for new unskilled garment workers to 5,300 takas ($66) a month.

A government-appointed panel last week voted to raise the basic wage to 5,300 takas, still the lowest minimum wage in the world, but owners refused to implement the increase and shutdown manufacturing while workers clashed with police and attacked factories. Workers demanded 8,114 takas ($100).

Bangladesh is the second-largest garment manufacturer after China and earns more than $20 billion a year from exports, mainly to the United States and Europe. The industry employs about 4 million workers, mostly women.

The industry has come under scrutiny for its often harsh and unsafe working conditions after the collapse of a building housing garment factories killed more than 1,100 people in April and a fire last November killed 112 workers. Global brands, factory owners and the government have pledged to work together to improve conditions.

Atiqul Islam, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said factory owners agreed to the wage increase after discussions with Hasina and would implement it soon. It still requires Ministry of Labor approval, which is expected Thursday.

While most of the 250 factories in the industrial zone outside the capital Dhaka reopened, hundreds of workers from one factory took to the streets Thursday.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the stone-throwing workers after they vandalized vehicles, said local police official Badrul Alam.

About 10 people were injured in the brief chaos.

"Only 20 factories remained closed for the trouble this morning," Alam said.

Akteri Begum, a 24-year-old worker, said she was happy with the increase.

"This is good for us, now we want its quick implementation," Begum said by phone.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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