Wednesday, July 6

Crackdown on Tuba workers

Crackdown on Tuba workers

Workers driven away from protest site to take partial salaries

Shohid, a Tuba Group employee who had been injured during police action on workers' demonstrations, is seen collecting two months' wages at the BGMEA Bhaban in the capital yesterday. They had been demanding three months' pay and Eid bonuses. Photo: Palash Khan

News Desk: Shohid, a Tuba Group employee who had been injured during police action on workers’ demonstrations, is seen collecting two months’ wages at the BGMEA Bhaban in the capital yesterday. They had been demanding three months’ pay and Eid bonuses. Photo: Palash Khan

Police yesterday clamped down on Tuba Group workers in a bid to force them to break an 11-day hunger strike and take a portion of their outstanding salaries.

Around noon the law enforcers drove nearly 1,000 workers away from the protest site by using teargas and pepper spray inside the garment maker’s 12-storey factory building in North Badda in the capital.

The workers had been staging protests in the building — around 300 of them 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.

Dejected, hundreds of workers, including the injured ones, went to the BGMEA office in the afternoon to receive two months’ salaries offered by Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) earlier.

Meanwhile, Tuba Group Shramik Sangram Committee, a temporary platform of left-leaning labour rights organisations, called strike in garment factories across the country tomorrow.

“Police were asking us to leave the place. Suddenly 15-20 police personnel stormed into the seventh floor and started spraying pepper on us,” said Minhazul Haque Nahid, a 23-year-old agitating worker of Tuba Group.

“My eyes, nostrils and throat were burning. I couldn’t see anything,” he said.

“We were on protests due to our hardship. What is our fault?” said a sobbing Bijli Begum, after being thrown out of the protest site.
Amid police action, workers were seen coming out rubbing their bloodshot eyes.

However, police denied the allegation of driving the workers away. “We did not force the workers to leave the site,” said MA Jalil, officer-in-charge of Badda police station.

Another worker, Rubi Akhter, said: “I was hit by the pepper spray from a close distance and fell on the ground. Later my colleagues helped me come out of the building.”

Three hours before the police action, water supply to the building was cut, some workers said.

Workers were seen hanging ropes from the top floors of the building to collect drinking water from their relatives and colleagues outside.
But their bids failed as policemen cordoning the building were cutting off the ropes.

Police did not make it clear who cut water supplies but a senior police officer on the spot said there was enough supply for the workers.
More than 200 garment workers were injured in the hour-long police action, said a leader of Tuba Group Shramik Sangram Committee.
Police also detained two trade union leaders — Moshrefa Mishu of Garments Workers Unity Forum and Joly Talukder of Garment Shramik Trade Union Centre. They were freed later.

Meanwhile, before the crackdown began, hundreds of workers from nearby factories blocked the Gulshan-Badda road to express solidarity with the agitating workers of Tuba Group.

The traffic came to a halt amid clashes between the angry workers and police. Dozens of vehicles were vandalised creating panic in the area.
From 1pm to 2.30pm, tailback and repeated clashes between agitating workers, police and ruling party supporters gripped the entire area.
At 2pm, when traffic on Pragati Sarani came to a standstill, a group of 50-60 people suddenly started chasing another group.

“Those, who are chasing others now, are supporting the BGMEA’s stance,” said Aleya, a young worker of Tuba Group, standing near the walkways opposite to the Gulshan road.

“I was inside the factory. Police beat some of our male colleagues and sprayed teargas,” said the worker, who was seen barefooted.
Within a moment of the conversation, a group of 15-20 people suddenly started throwing brick bats on the standing vehicles on the road. Panicked passengers were seen getting off buses through windows.

Police were a couple of hundred yards away when the mayhem was taking place.

“Why do police detain and beat workers when they were agitating to realise their arrears,” said Lata Begum, an angry worker.
Lata, along with other workers, took to the streets after Tuba workers were forced to leave their factory. One of her female colleagues was seen with a stick in hand with another one looking for brickbats.

After a couple of minutes of vandalism, police along with the supporters of the ruling party chased the aggrieved workers with sticks. The road was made free after 2.15pm.

Sumi Begum, a worker of Tuba Group, said: “I am afraid the owners may not give us the rest of the salaries.”

Minara Begum, another worker, said she was inside the factory at her will and wanted the owners to pay full arrears at the factory, not at the BGMEA office.

However, there are some differences of opinion, reflecting a spilt among trade unions. Some workers said they were barred by some trade union leaders from getting salaries from BGMEA.