- Associated Press - Sunday, December 12, 2010

CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh (AP) — Garment workers demanding the implementation of a new minimum wage clashed with police at an industrial zone in southeastern Bangladesh on Sunday, leaving up to three people dead and 100 hurt, police and news reports said.

Police official Reza Al Hasan said authorities opened fire and used tear gas after thousands of workers attacked factories and smashed vehicles at the Chittagong Export Processing Zone. The zone houses about 70 foreign companies that mainly manufacture garments, shoes and bicycles, and employ about 150,000 workers.

Mr. Hasan said one worker died but would not say how. The United News of Bangladesh news agency said three people were fatally shot, but police would not confirm the figure.

Chittagong, 135 miles southeast of Dhaka, has the country’s main seaport, and many local and foreign businesses have their offices there.

Kusum Dewan, another senior police official, said security officials first used batons in an attempt to disperse the stone-throwing workers, but failed to control them. He said 25 police were among the injured.

Mr. Dewan said at least 25 people were arrested.

Officials said Sunday’s clashes involved a South Korean company, YoungOne, which suspended operations at its 13 garment factories late Saturday after workers attacked the facilities.

They said the workers were demanding the implementation of a new wage structure announced by the government in July.

Kihak Sung, chairman of YoungOne, said outsiders, not workers, had attacked the factories.

He said there was no problem with workers regarding wages and his company usually paid more than other companies.

He demanded the government ensure security for the factories.

In the first increase since 2006, the government raised the official minimum wage to 3,000 takas ($45) a month from 1,662 takas ($25). The new pay structure took effect in November, but workers say many factories haven’t implemented it yet.

Garment workers in Bangladesh are among the lowest paid in the world, according to the International Trade Union Confederation, a Vienna-based labor rights group.

Smaller protests have taken place around Dhaka demanding the new wage structure. On Sunday, workers in the capital blocked a busy road and set two vehicles on fire, police said.

Labor Minister Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain asked workers to halt violence and hold talks instead.

Violent protests by garment workers are common in Bangladesh. The country has about 4,000 garment factories that export more than $10 billion worth of products a year, mainly to the United States and Europe.

Their customers include Wal-Mart, Tesco, H&M, Zara, Carrefour, Gap, Metro, JCPenney, Marks & Spencer, Kohl’s, Levi Strauss and Tommy Hilfiger.

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