Workers stage rowdy protests
Agitated apparel workers set alight a car in Gazipur yesterday during a demonstration demanding capital punishment to the owner of Rana Plaza, which collapsed on Wednesday leaving at least 384 dead. Photo: Star
Many garment factories faced an unannounced shutdown yesterday after thousands of apparel workers took to the streets of Gazipur, Savar, Narayanganj and Ashulia to protest the deaths of their fellow workers in the Savar building collapse.
The agitating workers blocked highways, vandalised vehicles and disrupted traffic, forcing factory owners to send their workers on leave for the day.
The authorities in Gazipur and Narayanganj deployed Border Guard Bangladesh soldiers to maintain law and order.
The undeclared closure of factories has left garment makers without production for almost six days since the nine-storey Rana Plaza caved in on Wednesday, causing heavy casualties.
On Friday, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association had announced the closure of all factories for Saturday and Sunday after workers turned to vandalism at different industrial units and on the streets.
Yesterday, factories reopened but the owners were greeted with similar protests, vandalism and road blockades.
BGMEA President Atiqul Islam said workers in Ashulia and Gazipur refused to join work and started demonstrations.
In Gazipur, 80 percent of the garments factories halted production following labour protests, said Selim Reza, inspector of Gazipur Industrial Police.
In the morning, workers joined work peacefully. Around 10:30am, some outsiders entered different factories and asked the workers to join them at demonstrations, he added.
Over 5,000 garment workers staged a demonstration at Joydebpur Chourasta and vandalised three buses. A chase and counter-chase took place between the transport and garment workers, disrupting traffic on Dhaka-Mymensingh and Gazipur-Tangail highways for one and a half hours, said Iqbal Hossain, sergeant at Noujor Police Outpost.
Police charged batons on them to bring the situation under control.
In the afternoon, more than 10,000 RMG workers from at least 50 garment units blocked the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway at Begherbazar for two hours. Police fired teargas shells to disperse the workers, said witnesses.
Meanwhile, about 30 workers were injured when they rushed downstairs after seeing cracks in four garment factories in the Gazipur industrial hub, said police.
In Savar, workers took to the streets and put up barricades on the Dhaka-Tangail highway, vandalised several garment factories and over 200 vehicles.
Traffic on the Dhaka-Tangail highway and Nabinagar-Kaliakoir road remained suspended for a few hours.
Narayanganj police said workers vandalised several vehicles and blocked the Dhaka-Narayanganj old road around 10:30am for half an hour. As the law enforcers tried to resist the vandalism, a clash ensued between the workers and police that left at least 10 people injured.
Later, police opened fire and lobbed tear gas shells to disperse the protesters.
In Rupganj and Siddhirganj, police locked two factories -- Benetex Garments and AK Fashion -- after cracks developed in them. Earlier, workers of the factories left their workplaces fearing danger.
In Chittagong, production at about 600 garment factories resumed peacefully in the morning, said Nasiruddin Ahmed, a former first vice-president of BGMEA.
About 350 workers of Eian Fashions put up a barricade in front of the factory at Agrabad Badamtali intersection to demand their arrears.
Yesterday's violence came a day after Sohel Rana, owner of Rana Plaza, was arrested in Benapole in connection with two cases filed following the building collapse.
Four owners of the garment factories housed in the high rise and two engineers of Savar Municipality have also been arrested.
In the capital, about 2,000 garment workers of Nasa Group staged demonstrations at Mohakhali following rumours that the factory authorities were trying to shut their units without paying them their arrears.
Witnesses said trouble brewed in Mirpur at around noon when workers vandalised vehicles and pelted the glass windows of shops with brickbats.
(Our correspondents from Gazipur, Savar and Narayanganj contributed to this report.)