Deadlock and confusion intensified Wednesday in the garment industry in Dhaka, Bangladesh, incited by police action at the site of a hunger strike by workers of the Tuba Group factory and the release on bail of the company’s owner, Delwar Hossain, late Tuesday.
Hossain is also the owner of Tazreen Fashions Ltd., where a fire took the lives of 111 workers in November 2012. After months of protests by worker groups, he was arrested in February by Dhaka police on charges of homicide.
More than 1,500 workers of the Tuba Group, which includes five other factories that Hossain owns, have been protesting and on hunger strike since July 28, demanding payment of back wages due from May to July and acceptance of their five-point list of demands.
The five factories involved in the protest are Tuba Fashion, Tuba Textile, Mita Design, Taif Design and Bughsan Garments.
International groups and supporters of the workers have been stepping in, as well. The Asia Floor Wage Alliance, for example, has called for international solidarity to support the Bangladesh garment workers on hunger strike. It also listed the brands for which the five factories have produced garments recently, including Wal-Mart, Li & Fung, Cotton & Silk Italy, Airness, RedCat USA — KiK and OWIM/Lidl, during the period of May to July for which salaries are pending to them.
But a Li & Fung spokeswoman said the company no longer sources anyproducts from Tuba Group factories and has not done so since 2012.
As workers entering the ninth day of their hunger strike awoke on Wednesday at Hossain market in Badda, which houses some of the Tuba factories, they found themselves locked in the building. Although they had already rejected a compromise offer from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association to pay workers for two months’ salary, empty buses were lined up outside the building waiting to take them to BGMEA headquarters to receive their wages at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Workers who were locked in said they were not sure who did it. The front gate was locked, and police officials alleged that workers themselves had orchestrated it. Outside the building, more than 100 police officials gathered, along with water cannons, in case there was violence.
Meanwhile, at BGMEA headquarters, officials waited to begin paying workers the two months in wages — part of the 40 million taka, or $516,000 at current exchange — that workers said was owed to them. Many of the workers have spent the last week on hunger strike and on Wednesday, as they did the day before, gathered to protest and call for a settlement of their pay. BGMEA officials told WWD that only half a dozen workers came to receive their money — it had been clearly stated that if they did not come in on Wednesday morning, they would not receive the payment from BGMEA. “We are just trying to help the situation out by raising funds and to settle the matter,” said BGMEA vice president Shahidullah Azim.
By 1 p.m., about 60 workers had collected payments. Later in the day, the BGMEA extended until Thursday the deadline for workers to come in and collect their back wages.
While some workers had called for the release of Hossain so that he could pay the them, others claimed that his release was being orchestrated by factory owners. A meeting between the government, the BGMEA and worker leaders on Sunday appeared to hold promise of a settlement, and BGMEA agreed to make payments to the workers of the two months in wages.
Having rejected the BGMEA offer, the Tuba workers are now planning their next move, mobilized by the Tuba Sramik Sangram Committee, which has 15 organizations within its fold. The committee has planned an all-out strike if their demands are not met by Wednesday. They vowed to begin demonstrations on Thursday.
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