Garment workers protest in Dhaka

Other News Materials 22 September 2007 21:42 (UTC +04:00)

( BBC ) - Thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, have defied a ban on public protests to demand better pay and conditions.

The dispute had been brewing for days, but became more serious and violent when the workers discovered that they had been locked out of their factory.

Hundreds of police, backed by army units, were deployed to disperse them.

Garments are Bangladesh's biggest export earners - accounting for 75% of total export earnings last year.

The police say that 10,000 workers took to the streets of Dhaka on Saturday in defiance of the government which, using its emergency laws, has banned all public demonstrations.

Minimum wage

The protesters are demanding that their employers increase their allowances, including their annual bonus which is due in a few weeks time.

The company involved in this dispute, the Nassa Group, sells clothes around the world. Its customers include Wal-Mart in the US and Primark in the UK.

It is seen as one of Bangladesh's better employers and was among the first companies to pay its 27,000 workers the national minimum wage of $25 (?13) a month - a figure agreed last year after a series of violent protests.

Bangladeshi trade unions and campaigning groups in Europe and the US, where most the clothes are sold, have accused Bangladeshi factory owners of exploiting their mainly female workforce.

But the owners say they need to keep costs down to stay in business.