Foreign investors cannot be allowed to simply abandon our RMG workers
After the Holey Artisan incident in July 2016, a sense of insecurity and helplessness gripped the foreigners working in the country. Asif had been working in HR at an RMG factory at EPZ. His Army background was of immense help in dealing with the mundane security issues. Of course this implied in-house safety and security of the employees at their workplace.
He was never bothered about their security at the residence until his CEO called him and said, “Asif, what is happening in your country? The foreigners are feeling very unsafe. Can you do something to make our expats feel that they are looked after and could continue their work unhindered?”
Asif took this seriously, and planned and carried out a security survey of all the accommodation of foreign employees in posh areas of the city such as Gulshan. His professional and comprehensive report suggesting remedial measures to enhance safety for them worked well. Asif felt elated when the CEO called him again to convey his gratitude.
Feeding production with required skilled manpower and other logistic support had always been a challenge for Asif. Visits and inspections also used to be a big headache.here had been several occasions when he had to sacrifice his hard-earned lone weekly holiday.
The boss was a hard task master who would say, “Asif, hope you have seen the mail from Hong Kong. The Big Boss is coming. He would like to see everything spick and span. I want you to swing into action with your entire housekeeping team.” This used to happen very often on the eve of the weekly holiday, shattering his plan to be with his family, visit people, and go places.
The toughest thing for HR was to sack employees. There were peak periods in the year when you needed to run night shifts -- say for a stretch of four months.
Since no female workers are allowed to work at night in EPZ, the only option was to hire male operators to work for night shifts exclusively.
But after the peak production period would be over, the thinning out would invariably start. There used to be trouble when such workers would receive the sad news of their termination. As per EPZ rules, you cannot continuously make people work for the night shifts, they have to be rotated between day and night.
But who comes and checks? These are good examples of exploitation which go on unabated. The poor souls continue to work happily at night, otherwise they will go jobless.
The factory at Adamjee EPZ was shut in early September last year. Thereafter, employees were paid for their subsistence only. Initially, the workers were sent on leave. But unfortunately, now it appears the factory has been closed without paying the dues to thousands of its employees. All the top bosses of foreign origin managed their safe escape well compensated. All of them left, leaving the local HR at the mercy of thousands of aggrieved workers.
On January 12, some electronic media telecasted the peaceful demonstration of several hundred workers in front of AEPZ, demanding payment of their dues. Unfortunately, they received harsh treatment from the police in the form of hot water cannons and tear gas shells, while they were only asking for their very legitimate demand. Many of them had served for more than 15 years in this factory.
Just the other day, the factory complex had been abuzz with so much activity. At 7:30 in the morning, thousands of workers would queue at the entry gate and then vanish in no time to their respective workstations.
Busy workers at the floor with the sounds of machines only, supervisors running around, the accomplished boss glossing his eyes over to make sure things are in order in every corner starting from cutting, sewing, finishing, washing, quality, packaging, and so on. Now all workers had gone home with shattered dreams, leaving behind a ghostly silence and endless darkness inside the huge sheds.
Whether it is in view of Covid-19 or any other reason, the investors might have compulsion in taking such a decision. They had been running this business for decades, making use of all facilities provided by our government in terms of tax holidays, cheapest labour, secured environment, exemptions of duties, uninterrupted power supply, and above everything, a compromised and flexible monitoring.
They expanded their businesses so much at the cost of our labourers being exploited, our rivers polluted, and our environment destroyed. Now if they have to close down, why can’t we enforce that they at least pay off their dues before leaving?
We have BGMEA, a good number of rights organizations, the EPZ authority. Can’t they work together and ensure that such investors pay their legitimate dues to our employees and then only then are allowed to leave?
We are too good and polite to not allow trade unions in EPZs at the plea of the investors that they are good enough to look after and ensure workers’ needs. Are they?
Brig Gen Qazi Abidus Samad, ndc, psc (Retd) is a freelance contributor. He can be reached via email: [email protected]