Garment workers demanding backpay at a Gazipur factory have blocked the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway for over four hours. Police and protesters have clashed during the demonstration. The protesters blocked nearly 25km of road from Tongi to Salna, causing heavy traffic congestion on both sides of the road. According to police and protesters, workers have been protesting since Saturday to demand backpay for employees of Knit and Knitex Ltd in Gazipur’s Degerchala area.
Agitated workers returned to the streets around 10am on Sunday after the families of several workers reported that they had fallen sick after drinking water from the tank at the factory.
Order was restored to the area and the long lines of traffic finally began to move around 2:30pm.
Workers at the factory had received half of Augusts wages ahead of Eid, said local police station chief Kazi Ismail Hossain. Though the remainder of the pay was to be distributed on Sept 12, the factory authorities failed to pay, leading to the protests.
The protests had started around 10pm on Saturday, but police deployed to the area had been able to restore order.
Several of the employees began to fall ill on Saturday night.
“The factory authorities were planning to close it without paying us,” factory worker Amena Begum told bdnews24.com.
“They also mixed something with the water supply so that they would not have to pay. Several people have fallen ill after drinking the water and have been taken to hospitals.”
The Knit and Knitex workers boycotted work on Sunday and blocked the gate to the factory.
The protesters began blocking the road and setting tyres on fire after rumours spread that some of the sick workers had died.
The Knitex factory and some others nearby were vandalised. A large section of the highway was blocked as workers from other factories joined the protests.
Police made several attempts to disperse the protesters, but were fended off. At one point, police attempted to use teargas shells.
Travellers faced severe difficulties due to the blockade. Many set out on foot after their vehicles got stuck in the traffic.