Monday, August 02, 2010


Garment workers in Bangladesh are continuing their strike and demonstrations against the recent desultory rise in the minimum wage, demanding that the government set the bar far higher. The garment industry in Bangladesh accounts for about 80% of that countries foreign trade income. This when workers move in that industry the state sits up and takes notice. Even though the garment workers are split between a multiplicity of unions they have acted on their own initiative. The function of the unions so far has been little more than cheering from the sidelines and being a body that the bosses and state can eventually negotiate with when the latter see reason. Here's an item from Sky News about the third day of the recent strike.
Bangladesh Garment Workers In Wage Protest
Katie Cassidy, Sky News Online

Garment makers in Bangladesh who produce clothing for companies such as Marks and Spencer have clashed with police for a third day over a new minimum wage they say is too low.

Unions have rejected a government offer of 3,000 taka (£27) a month, which is nearly double the previous minimum, but far less than the 5,000 taka (£45) the workers asked for.

The garment industry is Bangladesh's second largest employer, with more than 3.5 million people - mostly women - working in thousands of factories all over the country.

International companies such as Wal-Mart, H&M, Zara and Marks and Spencer have their clothing made in Bangladesh.

Thousands of angry workers took to the streets of Dhaka in protest over their pay after union leaders said the rise did not match the cost of living.

Some 80 people were injured in the latest clashes with police, who fired rubber bullets and used their batons to clear away demonstrators.

Officials said a mob blocked a highway in the city's north for several hours, jeering at officers and pelting them with bricks.

In another part of the capital, protesters attacked vehicles and looted shops.

Nearly 250 people, including officers, have been hurt in similar violence over the past two days.

The Bangladeshi Prime Minister called on the workers to accept the new minimum wage and stop hurting the sector, which is worth some 80% of the country's annual £10bn export income.

Sheikh Hasina said the continuing unrest, which has forced the closure of 20 factories in Dhaka's textile hub, could threaten employees' livelihoods.

She asked workers to return to work peacefully while factory owners said they would reopen if order was restored.
As I mentioned the union movement in Bangladesh is severely fractured. Some unions have decided to accept the government's offer. Read the following from the Bangladesh News site, and for "the labour leaders" read "some of the labour leaders. Notice also how the workers are bypassing such "leaders".
Workers again protest,
12 units closed in Ashulia
Savar, Aug 2 ( )—Readymade garment workers have again taken to the streets in Savar, blocking a key highway and forcing factories to shut for the day, barely a day after the labour leaders accepted the government's wage scale.

Day-long closure was declared at 12 factories in Savar as two separate incidents of workers agitation at Ashulia's Jirabo area and Ulail area took place on Monday morning.

Dhaka district's additional police superintendent Mozammel Haque told "A number of factories were shut down for the day. Work is continuing normally at other factories."

Witnesses said work started normally at the Ashulia Industrial Zone with most workers joining work on time. However, some 3,500 workers of Iris Fashions located in Ashulia's Jirabo area skipped work and started demonstrating from 9am outside the factory

They vandalised nearby Arunima Sportswear Ltd of Rising Group. Chairman Syed Kamrul Huda of Arunima Sports said: "Workers of my factory joined work as usual. But the factory was attacked around 9:30am by outsiders."

The demonstrators marched on the link road between Jirabo and CMP areas on route to the Dhaka-Tangail highway. The police tried to stop them but the workers pushed through.

Around 9.15am the workers reached the Dhaka-Tangail highway and laid siege on the road halting traffic. The police charged baton on them and managed to free the road around 9.30am. A tense atmosphere was hanging heavy prevalent in the area with the workers and the police facing off in the area.

A case has been filed at Ashulia Police Station by sub-inspector Abul Bashar accusing 700 unnamed workers of attacking and obstructing police duty, and vandalising private property.

Ten factories of the area, including Iris Fashions, declared closed for the day. Meanwhile, workers of HR Textiles, a concern of Pride Group, in Ulail bus-stand area on the Dhaka-Aricha highway took to the streets, as well.

Nearly 2,000 workers of the factory attempted to block the highway around 9am. The police immediately clubbed and dispersed them. The workers took position a little off the road and continued their demonstration.

Around 11:15am the demonstrators pelted the adjoining factory of Doyel Group of Industries with brickbats.

Savar Police Station' acting officer in charge Mahabubur Rahman told "The two factories were declared closed for the day after the incident. The workers left."

"Additional police have been deployed in front of the factories," the police official added.

Following the massive workers agitation on Sunday and Saturday, Jamgara remained calm on Monday.
Whatever the ins and outs of the multiple labour unions involved in the present unrest in Bangladesh and how little control they have over their members the simple fact is that the managers of the Bangladeshi factories can easily grant the demands that the most intransigent workers are making and still be more than competitive on the world market. Here's a final item from the Bangladeshi Daily Star about the events. Note the government's response of blaming what the workers have done on "outside agitators". Even the compliant local unions have been unable to hold the workers in check in the interest of the government and the bosses. People from outside of Bangladesh have little to do with this spontaneous revolt.
RMG sector still in grip of violence
80 injured in clashes in Ashulia, Narayanganj, Chittagong a day after 'understanding'
Star ReportRMG
Workers continued demonstrations in Ashulia and Narayanganj yesterday even though labour representatives agreed to the new pay scale the previous day with a pledge to help maintain normal work environment in industrial areas.

At least 80 people were injured as labourers clashed with police in Ashulia and Narayanganj for the third consecutive day.

Production in several factories was suspended after the workers resorted to violent protests demanding a minimum wage of Tk 5,000 with effect from August 1.

Meanwhile, workers of two garment units of Azim Group in Kalurghat BSCIC Industrial Area in Chittagong went on the rampage on Sunday night and yesterday bringing production to a halt, reports our staff correspondent from Chittagong.

The labour representatives at a meeting with ministers, chamber leaders and garment owners on Sunday agreed to the new pay structure for garment sector and promised to help keep normal work environment in industrial areas.

Agitating workers got involved in a series of clashes with police at Katherpool of Fatulla and adjoining areas in Narayanganj leaving 50 people injured.

They demanded Tk 5,000 as minimum wage with effect from August 1 and immediate release of Montu Ghosh, adviser of Garment Sramik Trade Union Kendra and district CPB unit president.

They pelted the law enforcers with brickbats and attacked two garment factories, over 50 shops and houses on the post office road. They also damaged five vehicles, reports our Narayanganj correspondent.

Ten policemen including Assistant Superintendent of Police Reazul Kabir, SI Shahidul Islam, constable Harun and Shahidul Islam were wounded in the clash.

About 40 others including ATN Bangla Narayanganj correspondent Abdus Salam, BTV correspondent Mahfuzur Rahman, and garment workers Rehana, Zarina, Raja Mia, Kalam Mia, Asma, Sakila, Jobeda and Rehena Begum were also injured in the clashes.

Police lobbed 50 teargas canisters to bring the situation under control.

The angry labourers put barricades on the Dhaka-Narayanganj Link Road in Shibu Market area shortly after 11:00am bringing the traffic to a halt for three hours.

The authorities of nine export-oriented garment factories at Fatulla wrote to the deputy commissioner and the police super urging them to ensure proper security at the factories.

Witnesses said, about 20,000 workers of Pall Mall, Mircrofibre, Liberty, Midland and Cadtrex Garments turned up at the factories. They demonstrated inside the factories instead of joining work.

They hurled brickbats at police from the rooftops.

Nearly 12,000 workers from different garment factories in Katherpool area took to the streets at around 10:30am defying police obstruction.

The labourers and law enforcers got involved in chase and counter chase prompting the police to lob 50 teargas shells.

Meantime, 30 RMG workers were injured in Ashulia after they clashed with police protesting the new pay hike, which they say is still too low, adds a correspondent from Ashulia.

Five workers were arrested on the Bishmile-Jirabo road, the scene of violence.

Police filed a case accusing 700 workers of vandalism on Sunday.

Authorities of 12 garment factories in the area announced holiday yesterday fearing clash.

The workers attacked three garment factories and made a fire in front of one of the factories. They also blocked the Bishmile-Jirabo road shortly after 10:00am.

The labourers got involved in chase and counter chase with police when the law enforcers tried to restore vehicular movement on the road.

They pelted the policemen with brick chips prompting them to fire rubber bullets and teargas canisters.

Fire fighters doused the flame in front of the factory gate.

Meanwhile, production in two garment units -- Orchid Knitwear and Global Knitting in the port city -- was halted after the workers demonstrated in the morning demanding a pay hike.

They agreed to join work as the factory authorities agreed to increase "piece-rate" after a meeting at about 2:00pm, said Md Moyeen Uddin, deputy secretary of Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).

The workers of the two garment units had also staged demonstrations on Sunday night demanding a raise in wage.

The workers attacked two factories of Azim Group and three other factories nearby.

Police swung into action swiftly and brought the situation under control.


The cabinet has decided not to allow any foreign national with tourist visa to get involved with trade unions in Bangladesh.

The decision came at a weekly meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the chair.

The cabinet expressed concern over the recent labour unrest in the garment sector.

Many foreign nationals with tourist visa have been involved with trade unions and are causing unrest in the sector for the interests of their nations, the meeting was told.

"It will be strictly overseen from now on so that no foreign national can come to Bangladesh with tourist visa to get involved with trade unions. If they want to come here for this purpose, they must get visas under a special category from the Bangladesh government," a senior minister told The Daily Star wishing anonymity.

The government has a list of foreign nationals, who came to Bangladesh with tourist visa and got involved with trade unions with the help of many NGOs, said sources close to the meeting.

Many of them are staying in Bangladesh although their visas have already expired, added the sources.

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