The strike enforced by workers from garment factories in Ashulia industrial belt in Savar rolls into its 10th day today. It has been gradually gaining momentum.
It began on December 12 when workers of four or five factories in Jamgora including Windy Apparels refused to work. In the next few days, more factories went into strike. As of yesterday a total of 84 RMG factory owners declared their manufacturing units shut in line with Article 13(1) of the Labour Act. The closure risks the jobs of over 200,000 workers, if the factories are not reopened.
Many workers who have joined the strike by refusing to work appeared to be in the dark about the causes of the protests.
“I do not have any clear idea about the reasons of the strike but joined my fellow workers and left the factory after signing the attendance sheet,” Hasan Mia, a worker of Windy Apparels told the Dhaka Tribune.
Several workers said they were instigated by some trade union leaders and they did not know what the strike was for.
Khadiza, a worker from one of the closed factories, said: “We went to work like any other day. After entering the floor, we found that a small group of workers had stopped working and were demanding higher wages. We had no idea that this might be happening.”
Most of her fellow workers did not know about the strike and they were provoked by outsiders, she claimed.
Some of the workers who carried out protests across Ashulia on Tuesday told the Dhaka Tribune their factories had been depriving them of various allowances and benefits for a long time.
Some alleged torture by the management leading to workers’ deaths. Others said their work environment was unsafe and there were no compensations for workplace accidents. Some workers said they needed pay raises to match the soaring market prices and house rent.
But no coherent set of demands have been put forth by workers to factory owners, despite several rounds of high-powered meetings.
While union leaders are being said to have instigated the protests, some workers have told the Dhaka Tribune that most of them have gone into hiding and cannot be reached.
Two union leaders, Mohammad Ibrahim, the Savar committee president of Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers Federation, and Shamim Khan, whose identity could not be confirmed, had provoked the workers, some alleged.
There are 15-20 trade unions working in the Ashulia industrial area.
“Suddenly, the workers went on strike without having any prior discussions with owners,” Bangladesh Readymade Garment Workers Federation General Secretary Sumi Akter told the Dhaka Tribune. She denied that the unions had instigated the protests.
Adur Rahman Utpol, managing director of S-21 Apparels Ltd, told the Dhaka Tribune he was at a loss as to why these events were taking place.
“They just went on strike without even talking to us or giving us any written demands.
“If the workers had any demands, they could have conveyed those to us and talked to us. Then we could have reached a solution through negotiations,” he said.
Abdus Salam Murshedy, owner of a closed factory, claimed that the strike was illegal because the workers did not give a prior notice to the factories.
“There is no logic behind a new wage structure because the Labour Act does not permit it. As per the law, we can restructure wages every five years,” he said.
Last time the wages were raised in the garment industry was November 2013, shortly before the general elections, following massive protests by garment workers nationwide.
The Tk5,300 minimum scale went into effect from January 2014. Before that the pay was raised to Tk3,000 in August 2010, and before that in 2006 to Tk1672.50. That was the first time the wages had gone up since 1994.
Ashulia police said they had detained five trade union leaders to question them about the protest. But asked about their identities, Officer-in-Charge Mohsinul Kadir refused to give their names.