Hundreds of ready-made garment factories in Bangladesh remain closed as violent protests by workers enter their fifth day and business leaders express concerns over the long-term impact of the unrest.

The protests at the Dhaka, Savar, Gazipur and Narayanganj industrial belts began on Saturday (21 September) as workers demonstrated against a pay increase tabled by employers in ongoing negotiations.

The protestors are demanding a minimum monthly wage of BDT8,114 ($104.36), up from the current BDT3,000 (US$38.53) entry-level minimum wage for a worker in Bangladesh, which was fixed in 2010.

But apparel factory owners under the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters' Association (BGMEA) have proposed a rise of just 20% to BDT3600 (US$46.30).

Garment makers are now warning that the unrest may lead to delayed shipments - and that would mean workers missing out on wages and bonuses around the Eid-ul-Azha festival.

They are also describing the unrest as both "internal and external conspiracy", and called for the country's garment industry to be kept out of politics ahead of a likely general election later this year.

The latest unrest has also sparked new fears about the sustainable growth of the country's highest foreign currency earning sector, which is working to rebuild its reputation after a series of deadly incidents including the collapse of a factory complex earlier this year with the loss of more than 1,100 lives.

The apparel leaders voiced their concerns at a press conference yesterday (24 September), organised by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters' Association (BGMEA), the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters' Association (BKMEA) and the Bangladesh Textile Mills' Association (BTMA).

SM Mannan Kochi, acting president of BGMEA, pointed out that an independent wage board is working to fix the minimum wage - and blamed a "conspiracy...to create anarchy by misguiding the workers."

While Salim Osman, president of the BKMEA, added that the resulting chaos ultimately hinders the export business.

Clashes between workers and law enforcers left nearly 50 people, mostly workers, injured today (25 September), with more than 140 garment factories at Gazipur suspending production.

Earlier in the week, hundreds of apparel factories in the capital Dhaka and its outskirts were also shuttered in response to the unrest.