Bangladesh garment hub reopens after unrest

Hundreds of garment factories in a Bangladesh manufacturing hub reopened Friday, days after they were closed down due to unrest sparked by the country's worst industrial tragedy, employers said.

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association shut down the factories at the Ashulia industrial area on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka earlier this week after tens of thousands of workers went on the rampage.

There had been virtually no work at hundreds of factories at Ashulia since the deadly collapse of a garment factory complex near the hub on April 24 that killed 1,127 people and highlighted appalling safety conditions in the sector.

But the BGMEA, which represents the country's 4,500 garment manufacturers, decided late Thursday to reopen the factories after the government assured "highest security" for their plants.

"All the Ashulia factories have reopened today," BGMEA vice president Shahidullah Azim said Friday.

"So far we have no reports of protests or violence, although only around 60-70 percent of the normal workforce are in the factories today as it is a Friday," usually a day off in Bangladesh, he told AFP.

Badrul Alam, police chief for the Ashulia district, said there "have been no reports of any protest or violence" after the reopening.

Alam said that police had "enough security" to prevent any possible violence, and armoured vehicles could be seen being parked in Ashulia.

Most of Bangladesh's top garment factories, which make clothing for a string of major Western retailers including Walmart, H&M, Tesco, Inditex and Carrefour, are based at Ashulia.

Angry workers have demanded the execution of the owner of the doomed building and a big rise in their minimum monthly wage, which was fixed at $38 in November 2010, prompting Pope Francis to compare the pay to that of "slave labour".

The government last week set up a panel to raise the salaries of the three million garment workers and has approved changes in labour laws, making it easier for them to form unions.

Bangladesh is the world's second-biggest apparel maker and the $20 billion (15.5-billion-euro) industry accounts for up to 80 percent of annual exports.