Police on Thursday evicted more than 1,000 apparel industry workers conducting a hunger strike at a Tuba Group factory in Badda, Dhaka, Bangladesh, even as many of their colleagues accepted a compromise settlement in the dispute over unpaid back wages.
Police used tear gas and broke the hunger strike in its 10th day.
Moshrefa Mishu, president of the Garments Sramik Oikya Forum, and Jolly Talukder, assistant general secretary of the Bangladesh Trade Union Centre, who were speaking up for the workers, were detained by the police.
A day earlier, the workers had rejected offers by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association to pay two months of their back wages, insisting instead that the BGMEA and Tuba accept a five-point list of demands. By noon Wednesday, only a handful of workers had gone to the BGMEA office to claim payment.
On Thursday, the situation changed. “More than 1,300 workers have already taken the money and there are still many more in line,” Shahidullah Azim, vice president of the BGMEA, told WWD. “We will pay the rest of the 250 workers soon.”
There was a sense of relief at the BGMEA headquarters, and at the press conference held there on Thursday evening, in which Mujibul Haque Chunnu, state minister for labor, said that the owner of the factories, Delwar Hossain, would have to pay the salaries for the third month, which is July, by Sunday.
Hossain also owns Tazreen Fashions Ltd., the site of the fire that killed more than 111 people in November 2012, and had been in prison since earlier this year. He was released on bail earlier this week in order to pay the Tuba workers’ back wages and, under the settlement Thursday, also will have to take care of other demands, which include the payment of allowances and bonus for the festival of Eid ul-fitr.
As workers continued to pick up their salaries at BGMEA headquarters, it remained too early to tell if the compromise will last. A call for a nationwide garment workers strike from Saturday is still being made by many labor organizations, which are calling for workers to fight for full acceptance of the five-point list of demands.
Azim of BGMEA claimed the hunger strike had been orchestrated in large part by “outside people” driven by political rivalries and that workers were “not allowed to leave and get their salaries when BGMEA started giving them out on Wednesday.”
Non-governmental organizations in Bangladesh have been watching the situation with concern.
“Every year, workers have to go on strike before Eid,” said Farah Kabir, country manager of Bangladesh for ActionAid. “Why can’t employers just factor this in? Why would workers have to go on hunger strike to get wages that are owed to them?
“We would like to see the BGMEA and the government rebuild the trust of the workers and see that compensation to them is a right that they don’t have to fight for at every turn,” she said.
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