Four days of violent protests by garment workers in Bangladesh have started to ease today (3 August), leaving the industry to pick up the pieces following a near collapse in its shipments to the EU, US and Canada.

The unrest caused a combined loss of work worth around US$100m, as well as additional costs of several million dollars to air-freight orders to meet delivery schedules, according to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BGMEA).

The demonstrations, which were sparked by anger at the government's new minimum wages, saw pitched battles in Dhaka's central metropolitan region - Ashulia, Savar, Mohakhali, Tejgaon, Gazipur, Fatulla and Narayangant, including the port city Chittagong.

On Sunday, 350 garment factories were shut down in the clothing manufacturing clusters and more than 800 workers and at least 60 policemen were reported injured.

Garment factories caught up in the unrest included Shed, Envoy, Sterling, AM Design, Medlar, Rising, New Age, Metro, Pallmall, Microfiber, Liberty, Midland, Sinha, Opex, Global, Orchid and Azim.

Around 400 larger garment factories have now resumed operation under reinforced police protection, and the remaining ones are expected to open again tomorrow (4 August).

The protesting workers argue that the new monthly minimum wage of BDT3,000 (US$43) - which represents an 80% rise on the previous wage of BDT1,662 ($24) - still doesn't meet the high cost of living. Instead, they want it raised even further, to BDT5,000 (US$72) a month.

Factory owners are also expressing concerns that none of the Western retail chains and importers who backed the pay hike have come forward to support them.

"After an 80% revision of wages with an associated 10-20% increase in production costs, we are waiting for increased prices from the buyers who petitioned the Prime Minister to force us to double the wages," lamented BGMEA president Abdus Salam Murshedy.

"We are helpless without an increase in prices from the buyers who engage us to operate factories for them," Murshedy told just-style. "Higher prices would be passed on to the workers," he added.

By Jahir Ahmed.