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Bangladesh’s government has in recent years cracked down on trade unions attempting to organize garment workers. In 2010 Hasina’s government launched an Industrial Police force to crush street protests by thousands of workers demanding better pay and working conditions.
That year police arrested at least six activists, including Akter, on charges of instigating workers to vandalize factories. They were later freed, but some charges are still pending.
The activists are also angry that police have made no headway in the investigation of the death of a fellow union organizer, Aminul Islam, who was found dead a day after he disappeared from his home in 2012.
"Islam’s case is going nowhere even though police say they are investigating," said Akter.
On Monday, nearly 100 garment factories shut down in the Ashulia industrial area near Dhaka, the capital, after protests erupted over the death of a female worker whose body was found inside a garment factory.
The body of Parul Akter, 22, was found on Friday. A local police official, Badrul Alam, said she committed suicide.
Thousands of workers took to the streets Monday and vandalized vehicles and shops before police used sticks to disperse the protesters. Several people were injured, said a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
The wage board will include representatives of factory owners, workers and the government, he said.
Bangladesh has 5,000 garment factories and 3.6 million garment workers. It is the third-biggest exporter of clothes in the world, after China and Italy. China lacks independent labor unions for all industries; the only legal unions are controlled by the Communist Party, and workers complain that they fail to represent their interests.
On Sunday, the Bangladesh government set up a new minimum wage board that will issue recommendations for pay raises within three months, Textiles Minister Abdul Latif Siddiky said. The Cabinet will then decide whether to accept those proposals.
Government officials also have promised improvements in safety. Since 2005, at least 1,800 garment workers have been killed in factory fires and building collapses in Bangladesh, according to research by the advocacy group International Labor Rights Forum.
In November, 112 workers were killed in a garment factory in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital. The factory lacked emergency exits, and its owner said only three floors of the eight-story building were legally built.
Hossain reported from Dhaka.
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