After more than seven days of protests, including a hunger strike at a factory location in Badda, Bangladesh, more than 1,500 workers of the Tuba Group took their anger to the streets on Tuesday.
The workers besieged the headquarters of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, where they were met by policemen equipped with helmets and batons. Meanwhile, dozens of workers observing the hunger strike in the building where three of the five Tuba factories are located were taken to the hospital for urgent care, worker leaders told WWD.
They are protesting the delay in the payment of salaries by the owner of Tuba Group, Delwar Hossain, who also is the owner of Tazreen Fashions Ltd. He has been in prison since February, chargesheeted for the deaths of more than 111 workers at the Tazreen factory fire in November 2012. While many workers have been demanding the death penalty for him, others have been calling for his release on bail so that he can pay the Tuba workers, who have not been paid since May.
Although Hossain was reportedly allowed bail last week to help pay the salaries, he has not been released from prison yet, due to delays in the paperwork.
“The whole thing doesn’t bode well for the garment industry,” said a factory owner, who requested anonymity. “Although it is a small number of protestors and employees, it causes discontent in the industry. It makes brands and retailers nervous about investing in Bangladesh.”
The garment industry has more than 3.8 million employees, mostly women. Global attention has been focused on working conditions in the sector since the Tazreen fire and the April 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza, an eight-story building. Worker rights are being watched more closely than ever before, and there has been the formation of an increasing number of trade unions.
Meanwhile, BGMEA officials were upset as well on Tuesday about the fact that the payments being offered to the workers were being rejected as inadequate.
S.M. Mannan (Kochi), acting president of the BGMEA, said payments would be made on Wednesday for two months salaries. He added that politics were playing a bigger role in the process rather than focusing on what was needed to resolve the dispute. The workers of the Tuba Group are now being supported by more than a dozen labor organizations, some of which, including the Ganatantrik Bam Morcha, said Tuesday that they would intensify the protests and attempt to create a nationwide uproar.
The BGMEA said that the workers of the five Tuba factories could begin collecting their salaries for May and June today and the rest of the payments would be paid later.
Worker leaders responded that they were not willing to compromise on their five-point list of demands, saying they needed three months’ salaries including bonus and overtime payments. They insisted Tuba and the BGMEA meet their other demands as well, including a reassurance that the factories would remain open, additional compensation for workers who had become sick during the hunger strike, a cancellation of bail for Hossain and immediate compensation for victims of the Tazreen fire.
“We’re not going to give up so easily,” said Moshrefa Mishu, president of Garment Workers Unity Forum. “If we give in now, we know that we will receive nothing. We have to hold our ground.”
As the government and employers try to resolve the situation, it will only be clear today whether workers will relent and accept the offer being made to them, or whether the employers’ union will give in and pay the entire due amount.
“Something has to give, and both parties have to keep in mind the greater good of the industry,” said a government official, who requested anonymity.
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