Protest staged at Mirpur, industry insiders fear more unrest
Garment workers on Saturday demanded an extension of Eid holidays and payment of wages and bonuses, as many took to the streets in the Mirpur area of the capital for a protest.
Workers from several readymade garments (RMG) factories of Bhashantek and Kafrul area of the capital gathered at Mirpur 10 and staged a sit-in protest, according to eyewitnesses.
The workers complained that there are just a few days left before Eid but the owners have not paid their salaries and bonuses yet.
Moreover, as the Eid holidays have been announced for only three days, it would be impossible to go home and return within this short time, they said, demanding an extension of the holidays and resuming public transport.
Earlier on Thursday, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) urged garment workers to stay at their respective workplaces during Eid holidays.
BGMEA said that to prevent the fresh wave of COVID-19 and to ensure social distance, the government instructed everyone to stay in their respective work areas.
The organization requested workers through its members to implement those governmental guidelines.
“We are worried whether this unrest will spread elsewhere,” said Salauddin Swapan, acting president of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC).
“People of all professions get holidays at different times of the year. But for garment workers, things are very different. They get no other holiday in the year except Eid. So, their protest for the holidays is not unreasonable,” he added.
“We will sit in an emergency meeting with all the unions and representatives from BGMEA on Sunday where we will try to find a solution through negotiations. We will appeal to the government to extend the holiday for RMG workers,” he further said.
Regarding wages and bonuses, Swapan said that since there were two days off, the banks were closed.
“The banks have now opened, so let us see what happens.”
Md Nasir Uddin, vice-president of the BGMEA, said workers should understand the problems posed by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In such a situation, if everyone leaves the workplace and spreads across the country, the risk of infections will increase, he added.
“We have called an emergency meeting tomorrow to discuss the overall situation. Labour leaders and owners will be present at the meeting. We will try to find a possible solution through the discussion,” he further said.
The industrial police and BGMEA said that nearly 700 RMG factories across the country may face labour unrest centring wages, festival bonuses, and holidays ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr.
The identified factories are under close monitoring of the BGMEA and industrial police to avert any untoward incident, said a BGMEA source.
Meanwhile, the Garment Sramik Karmachari Oikya Parishad (GSKOP) — an alliance of 20 workers’ associations — has demanded the payment of wages and Eid bonuses by Monday.
GSKOP issued a press statement on Friday claiming over 30% of factories have not paid Eid bonuses while more than 75% have yet to disburse wages for April.
They said even though the RMG workers kept apparel factories operational risking their lives amid the Covid-19 pandemic, reports indicate many factories are unlikely to pay the wages and allowances before Eid.
The GSKOP leaders also demanded the announcement of at least a seven-day alternative leave for the apparel factory workers when the corona crisis will become controlled.
They said the export earning was $3.13 billion alone last month, but many apparel workers still do not know whether they would be able to celebrate Eid receiving wages and allowances.
The RMG export earning was $27.95 billion in the 2019-20 fiscal year and $18.40 billion in the first seven months (July-January) of the current fiscal year of 2020-21, according to data provided by GSKOP.
The factory owners earlier took loans of Tk10,500 crore at a nominal interest rate from the stimulus fund for the payment of wages and allowances. This time, they sought loans of Tk10,000 crore again for the payment of workers’ wages and allowances ahead of this Eid, the GSKOP leaders claimed.
This is not true that the factories cannot disburse wages and allowances of one-two months though they have run the businesses for over 40 years availing of all sorts of facilities from the state, they added.