Eleven members of the United States Congress led by Representative (Democrat-Illinois) Janice Schakowsky have written a letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asking her to “personally intervene” and release the union leaders and workers who were arrested in December last year during RMG workers' protests demanding an increase in their minimum wage.
, dated February 23, 2017 and sent to the prime minister via the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington, DC, said: “As friends of Bangladesh and advocates of a strong US-Bangladesh relationship, we write to express our serious concern regarding the arrest and detention of workers in the garment industry who have been engaged in peaceful activity in many areas of Bangladesh.”
It said since December last year, the Congressional offices had received briefings on an orchestrated pattern of arrests, surveillance and harassment of garment worker union members and leaders, as well as forced closure of union offices and community education centres.
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A Bangladeshi woman shouts slogans at a rally organised by RMG labour activists to mark May Day or International Workers Day in Dhaka on May 1, 2010 Photo: AFP
The letter mentioned the cancellation of Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) by the US government for certain Bangladeshi products, including RMG, in 2013 following the Rana Plaza collapse and said the Bangladesh government's progress on GSP implementation seemed to have regressed with regards to labour rights.
“For example, union registration approval rates have dropped from 65% to 29% between 2013 and 2015, and certain unions have been advised that their registration applications will not, as a matter of practice, receive favourable consideration, according to information received by Congress,” the letter stated.
The Congress leaders condemned the criminalisation of activities protected under both Bangladeshi and international law.
“We are extremely concerned that the respect of labour rights in Bangladesh is moving in the wrong direction, and call upon you [Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina] to personally intervene, and to clarify the government policies and practices in the face of deterioration in labour rights. We respectfully ask that you give full and fair consideration to our concerns and our requests.”
Besides Rep Schakowsky, the letter was signed by Reps Sander Levin, Bill Pascrell, Jr, Robert Scott, James McGovern, Willing Keating, Joseph Crowley, Mark Pocan, Jackie Speier, Steve Cohen and Barbara Lee.
At least 34 union leaders and RMG workers have been arrested and detained over allegations of vandalism and disorderly conduct
and when workers staged a demonstration demanding a substantial raise in their minimum wage and other benefits.
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The crackdown on the protesters has been condemned globally
. Trade unionists, workers and NGOs gathered together to stage actions outside Bangladesh embassies and consulates around the world.
Protests have taken place in 16 cities including Berlin, Geneva, London, Brussels, The Hague, Washington, DC, New York, Ottowa, Kathmandu and Seoul.
“This crackdown is about denying workers in the Bangladeshi garment industry the right to organise unions and collectively bargain for decent wages. We call on the Bangladesh government and the BGMEA to put a halt to this harassment and respect the workers who create wealth for their country while receiving a pittance,” said Christy Hoffman, deputy general secretary of UNI Global Union.
Read More- RMG workers anxious over post-unrest arrests
IndustriALL Global Union Assistant General Secretary Jenny Holdcroft, who delivered a letter of protest to the Bangladesh Consulate in Geneva, said: “The Bangladesh government must understand the implications of the widespread protests this week in Europe, the United States and Asia. There’s no sustainable future for the industry without respect for labour rights.”
Several top fashion brands, including H&M, C&A, Tchibo and Inditex which owns Zara, have pulled out of Dhaka Apparel Summit 2017
, scheduled to begin on Saturday, in protest of the arrests and detainment of RMG workers and unionists.
Also Read- New wage board for RMG workers recommended
The summit's focus will be on the next course of action plan to achieve $50bn export target by 2021.
“C&A together with other apparel brands, including H&M and Inditex, decided not to participate in the BGMEA Dhaka Apparel Summit… We strongly encourage the Government of Bangladesh to take immediate steps to ensure the protection of the workers’ rights, with special attention to the legitimate representatives of the workers who have been arrested,” Thorsten Rolfes, spokesperson of Dutch company C&A, told AFP.