Refayet Ullah Mridha
Sacking of about 1,000 workers of a sick garment factory was at the root of yesterday’s mayhem in Ashulia. But it fanned at a stunning speed the festering anger of workers of a large number of sick garment factories. Ultimately, some 50,000 workers took part in the wholesale vandalising and damaging of about 50 garment units in Ashulia.
The current global meltdown had a background part to play in the whole thing as scores of factories turned sick due to reduced orders.
Low and delayed wage payments following the recession also helped trigger the unrest that took at least two lives and left hundreds injured in three consecutive days of violence.
Ha-Meem Group in Ashulia was the latest factory to become a major victim.
Many factory owners had truncated their workforce to be more competitive against their international competitors, industry insiders said.
Retrenched workers of different garment factories were lobbying Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) over the last few months to have their jobs back, get their arrear wages, and get their pays hiked. But the association could do little for them.
“Due to declining orders from international buyers I sold S Suhi Industrial Park [six garment production units] to Pretty Group in February and all of the units were closed in October last year,” said Sirajul Islam, former managing director of S Suhi Industrial Park.
Sirajul said he could not run all six of his units as the number of orders from the recession-hit international buyers was declining. He said the units had 1,700 workers when it was handed over to the new owner.
The closure of the units of S Suhi Industrial Park Ltd was mainly responsible for the latest labour unrest in garment factories in Ashulia and Savar areas, a number of garment workers claimed.
Pretty Group in March started production only with the sweater-manufacturing unit and kept the five other units of the former S Suhi Industrial Park closed. Around 1,000 out-of-work workers of the five units were mounting pressure on the new management to restart those units soon, said garment workers.
The workers of the closed units along with other ill-paid workers of some nearby factories, which are not doing so well, started a movement to reopen the units and raise salary of workers, they said.
Failing to get their jobs back, they started to unite and threaten to halt production in other factories unless the former S Suhi units are reopened, a worker of Ha-Meem Group said requesting anonymity.
The agitating workers started vandalising the factories that were still in production and the units of Ha-Meem Group bore the brunt of their wrath, the worker said.
Manjur Rahman, manager and company secretary of Pretty Group, claimed that this labour unrest had neither anything to do with his factory nor was it triggered from his factory.
He, however, said that three workers behaved badly with a production manager of S Suhi Sweater Unit (of Pretty Group) on June 27.
He said there was an altercation between the three workers and the production manager over the workers’ getting to work late. “The production manager did not allow the three to enter the factory that day and they were kept outside the gate,” he said.
He said the three workers called others and tried to force their way into the factory and the management tried to obstruct them with the help of Ansar members.
At one stage, the workers entered the factory premises and snatched the weapons of Ansar members. “Other Ansar members opened fire on the workers to disperse them when Al-Amin, a worker, was seriously injured and he died in Dhaka Medical College Hospital [DMCH],” Manjur said.
“I do not believe that the latest labour unrest erupted due to the incident in former S Suhi Industrial Park Ltd…it is a deliberate attempt to destroy the readymade garment sector in Bangladesh,” he said.
He said he would open the sweater factory on July 1, as this is the peak season for sweater production. The other units would be reopened in phases in the near future, he added.
Source: The Daily Star, 30 June 2009