• Sheikh Hasina tells protesters to work with the pay rise they already received or ‘to return to their village’.

DHAKA (Agencies): Bangladesh’s prime minister has offered a stern response to striking garment workers amid deadly clashes over pay.

After unions rejected a government offer, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Friday rejected the demands of the protesting workers for a higher pay rise.

The premier insisted that they accept the offer on the table or “go back to their village”. Union leaders expressed concern that her words could provoke more violence from police and security forces.

Large protests have resulted in at least three deaths over the past two weeks. In response, a government-appointed panel agreed on Tuesday to raise the minimum wage by 56.25 percent to 12,500 taka ($113).

However, unions swiftly rejected the offer, demanding instead 23,000 taka ($208), and the unrest has continued.

Bangladesh’s 3,500 garment factories account for about 85 percent of the country’s $55bn in annual exports, supplying many of the world’s top brands including Levi’s, Zara and H&M.

But conditions are dire for many of the sector’s four million workers, the vast majority of whom are women whose monthly pay starts at 8,300 taka ($75).

“I would say to the garment workers: they have to work with whatever [level to which] their salary is increased, they should continue their work,” Hasina told a meeting of her ruling Awami League party on Thursday evening.

The protests have left at least three workers dead and more than 70 factories ransacked since last week, according to police.

“If they take to the streets to protest at someone’s instigation, they will lose their job, lose their work and will have to return to their village,” Hasina added.

“If these factories are closed, if production is disrupted, exports are disrupted, where will their jobs be? They have to understand that.”

Hasina said 19 factories were “attacked and destroyed”, businesses that “give them bread and butter and food and employment”.

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