At least ten people were injured in a clash between the workers of readymade garment (RMG) and police at Shewrapara in Kafrul thana of the capital today Wednesday. Police and witnesses said a meeting on wage-hike was scheduled between the workers and the authorities of MM Shirt Garment at its factory today (Wednesday). However, on coming to their workplace at about 8 am, they found the gate of the factory closed. Angered, they blocked Shewrapara road, disrupting vehicular movement. On information, police rushed to the spot at about 9 am and charged batons to disperse the agitating workers, triggering a clash that left 10 workers injured. Three garments workers were reported to have been arrested by police.
Targets for pockets,
Workers of the garments industry in Bangladesh have become a major section of the society. Economists like to view them as a driving force for the economy. Politicians like to view them as ‘revolutionary’ forces of either the Sramik League (workers organisation of the ruling Awami League) or the Sramik Dal (workers organization of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party). Landlords in Dhaka and Ashulia view them as favourable sources of income that stay out of the house for almost 14-15 hours a day and pay the rent on time. Yes, on time. That is because a major portion of garments workers are immigrants from remote villages, who usually value truth and honour more than some (I’d rather say most) of their morally inept employers; employers who moan and bitch all the time on how much they lose out while paying the workers their wages. A generation of businessmen has sprung up catering to the needs of this section of the society while executives of different brands congratulate themselves on developing novel ways to relieve the garments goers off their money.
The Savar tragedy has changed many things; one of them being the fact that the world wept at scenes the lifeless bodies from the Rana Plaza, while rejoicing at the news of the rescue of Reshma after 17 horrible days. One of them has been a renewed call to address workers rights. One would have expected the government to start taking immediate action in this regard. They did. But it was not how the workers expected it be. Protests for better wages and working conditions turned violent when the government forces took ‘immediate’ action to ‘peacefully disperse’ the protesters, using tear gas and indiscriminate baton charging to good effect. As a result, hundreds have been injured over the past few days at Mirpur and Gazipur. Calls for setting a voluntary international minimum wage limit for all workers in Bangladesh by Nobel Laureate Dr Yunus were snubbed by the finance Minister AMA Muhith as being unrealistic. Employers themselves have not played any effective role in improving the situation. Responses have usually resulted in garments closures (bottling the livelihood of the workers) while playing the poverty card to outsiders and foot dragging on issues such as worker’s wages.
Defining the stance of an autocratic government,
Largely silent on issues of worker rights, especially the right to form trade unions and entitlement to a minimum wage, a recent letter from Jute and Textiles Minister Abdul Latif Siddiqui to US Ambassador Dan W Mozena speaks volumes. Siddiqui on Monday said the reported remark of the US ambassador that trade union rights should be introduced at all garment factories in the country was a provocative one. He then wanted to know the number of US states that allowed trade union rights to workers at the moment. Such belittling statements clearly identify how the government feels on the issues at hand. One will not be wrong in assuming that this is the unofficially official position of the Government of Bangladesh at present.
Change is inevitable. Whether the government, garments owners or the foreign buyers want it or not, one day the work conditions and the wages of workers in Bangladesh will improve. History and time is witness.
The question is whether they want to be a part of the inevitable or not.