Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina

Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina has urged garment workers to return to work with the newly-announced wages whereas protesting garment workers were demanding a nearly tripled wage increase, after violent clashes with police and factories were ransacked.

A government-appointed panel raised wages on Tuesday by 56.25 per cent to Tk 12,500 (USD 113) for the South Asian nation's garment factory workers, who were demanding a TK 23,000 minimum wage in all plants.

Bangladesh's 3,500 garment factories account for around 85 per cent of its USD 55 billion in annual exports, supplying many of the world's top brands including Levi's, Zara and H&M.

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But conditions are dire for many of the sector's four million workers, the vast majority of whom are women whose monthly pay starts at Tk 8,300.

"I would say to the garment workers: they have to work with whatever their salary is increased, they should continue their work," Hasina told a meeting of her ruling Awami League party late Thursday.

The protests have left at least three workers killed and more than 70 factories ransacked since last week, according to police.

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"If they take to the streets to protest at someone's instigation, they will lose their job, lose their work and will have to return to their village," the prime minister added.

"If these factories are closed, if production is disrupted, exports are disrupted, where will their jobs be? They have to understand that."

Hasina said 19 factories were "attacked and destroyed", businesses that "give them bread and butter and food and employment".

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On Thursday, police reported violence in the key industrial towns of Gazipur and Ashulia, outside the capital Dhaka, after more than 25,000 workers staged protests in factories and along highways to reject the wage panel's offer.

Unions said they had dismissed the panel's decision, saying the pay hike does not match the soaring cost of food, house rents, healthcare and school fees for their children.

Hasina said what was offered to the workers was better than what civil servants would get.

"Government officers have got a five per cent hike, since there is inflation all over the world -- and they (garment workers) will get 56 per cent raise," she said.

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