Thursday, May 26

Workers confined, forced to take partial payments

News Desk: This employee of a garment factory of Tuba Group got a call on her phone informing her of her mother-in-law’s death yesterday. She had been on hunger strike inside her Badda factory demanding unpaid wages and Eid bonuses. When she came downstairs to leave for home, she found the gates locked.

Owners of Tuba Group backed by police confined more than 1,000 agitating workers for hours yesterday in an apparent bid to quell their ongoing protests for full payment of arrears.

The nine-hour confinement ends around noon when an unidentified man opened the gate of the building where the workers have been on hunger strike for ten days. But the workers refused to go to the BGMEA office to take partial payments promised earlier.

“We went to the BGMEA office several times. But it did not respond. Now it offers us two months’ salary. We want full payments, including Eid bonuses, at our factory, not at the BGMEA office,” Shiuly Akter, a 45-year-old sewing operator, said in the afternoon.

Standing 10-15 yards away from the Tuba Group’s factory building at North Badda in the capital, she, along with her colleague Moina, was trying to contact some of the workers inside the building.

Many workers and reporters who were standing outside were barred from entering the building. But police denied such allegations.
More than 1,000 workers of Tuba Group were agitating inside the building to express solidarity with around 300 of their colleagues who have been on hunger strike since July 28, the day before the Eid festival. The arrears were for the months of May, June and July, including overtime bills and Eid bonuses, totalling Tk 4.14 crore.

Some 583 of the 1,458 workers employed at five factories of Tuba Group received two months’ salaries from the BGMEA till 10pm yesterday, according to BGMEA.

“A vested quarter wants to create instability in the garment sector by using the innocent workers,” BGMEA President Atiqul Islam said.
The gate of the factory building was locked hours after Tuba Group owner Delwar Hossain was freed from jail on bail.

Delwar had been detained since February in a case linked with a 2012 fire that killed 112 people at Tazreen Fashions, a garment unit of Tuba Group, in Ashulia on the outskirts of the capital.

Shiuly, who has around Tk 30,000 dues with Tuba Group, said she could not pay house rent and grocery bills for the last two months. “My homeowner has already threatened to evict me,” she said.

Moina said her son was injured in a road accident and since then she has been borrowing for his treatment. She, however, refused to take partial salary from the BGMEA.

Apart from Shiuly and Moina, other workers too blamed police for locking them in. Some labour leaders having links with the BGMEA are putting pressure on the workers to receive two months’ payments, but the workers have refused to do so, Jebunnesa Jebu, a member of the central committee of Garments Workers Unity Forum, said by phone.

Moshrefa Mishu, one of the organsiers of the protest, was threatened with arrest, she said. “There is a shortage of saline, doctors and nurses to attend our workers observing the hunger strike,” said Utpal, who works at the cutting section of a factory of Tuba Group.

Police, however, claimed they allowed entry of physicians to ensure treatment of the fasting agitators.

At noon, police entered the building to clear out what they termed “outsiders” who joined the workers to protest nonpayment of salaries. The law-enforcers also foiled attempts of some left-leaning parties, who were expressing solidarity with the workers, to hold demonstration in front of the factory building.

“We forced outsiders to leave the building,” said Mahbub Hasan, additional deputy commissioner of Gulshan zone of Dhaka Metropolitan Police.
Police also beat up Zonayed Saki and Saiful Haque, leaders of left-leaning political parties.

“Our duty is to ensure law and order. We will not allow anyone to create blockades on the road,” Mahbub said.
After 2pm, a group of trade union activists supporting the BGMEA’s stance and some supporters of the ruling party were seen beating up the protesters.

Two university teachers — Samina Luthfa of Dhaka University and Saydia Gulrukh of Jahangirnagar University — who were expressing solidarity with the protesters also came under attacks.

In the evening, Khushi Kabir, a human rights activist, and Imran H Sarker of Gano Jagaran Mancha visited the spot.
“Police are depriving the workers of their rights. They are serving the interest of the BGMEA. The owner is bound to pay full salaries,” Imran said.

Tuba Group Shramik Sangram Committee, a temporary platform having representatives from 15 labour organisations, was also barred from holding a press conference inside the building.