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Bangladesh factories shut by worker protests to reopen Friday

Garment workers shout slogans as they block a street during a protest to demand capital punishment for those responsible for the collapse of
Garment workers shout slogans as they block a street during a protest to demand capital punishment for those responsible for the collapse of

DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh will reopen more than 300 garment factories on Friday, ending a three-day forced closure due to worker protests over pay and working conditions after a building collapse killed more than 1,100 people.

A series of deadly incidents at factories in Bangladesh, the world's second-biggest exporter of clothing after China, has focused global attention on safety standards in the booming $20 billion garment industry here.

Authorities shut down the garment factories for an indefinite period on safety grounds following worker unrest in the Ashulia industrial belt, on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka, that accounts for nearly 20 percent of total exports.

"We decided to reopen the factories from tomorrow after the labor minister assured us of adequate security," said Mohammad Atiqul Islam, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

An eight-storey complex of factories housing garment manufacturers collapsed in Bangladesh on April 24, killing 1,127 people. That has sparked campaigns in the West to improve safety standards at plants supplying major fashion brands.

Earlier this week, the cabinet approved an amendment to Bangladesh's labor laws, paving the way for parliament to allow garment workers to form trade unions without prior approval from the factory owners. It also formed a wage board to consider pay increases for ready-made garment workers.

Average monthly minimum wages now stand at the equivalent of $38 after an increase of about 80 percent in 2010 in response to months of violent street protests. Bangladesh ranked last in minimum wages for factory workers in 2010, according to World Bank data, behind Cambodia.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Emily Kaiser)

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