RMG sector turning hot 30 hurt as workers clash over non-payment of pay

19 July 2014 Kazi Zahidul Hasan

The garments sector is becoming hot again over the non-payment of workers' salary and  festival bonus ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr.
As storm brewing in the garment industry centering non-payment of wages and Eid bonus, the security agencies are apprehending another flare up of labour unrest in the country's key garment industrial belts ahead of the Eid.
Earlier, in a report to the government, a security agency had submitted a list of 506 vulnerable garments factories located in Savar, Gazipur, Narayanganj and Chittagong where labour unrest may break out at any moment over RMG owners' reluctance to pay arrear salary and Eid bonus.
Alerting the government about possible untoward incident, the security agency urged it for taking preventive measures.     
Another investigation of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has identified 1000 vulnerable apparel units for labour unrest. "As the financial position of these factories is not sound, they may not pay workers' salary and bonus before Eid leading to a large scale of labour unrest," said the report.
Workers in a large number have started demonstrating in various garments industrial zones in the capital and outskirts of the city to press home their demands.
During the protests, the workers took to busy roads, blocked traffic, resorted act of vandalism and locked into clashes with police, leaving many injured.     In such an incident, at least 30 people were injured in a clash between the garment workers and the police at Tongi industrial zone in Gazipur on Friday morning.
Witnesses and Police said, several thousands garment workers of Zaber and Zobair Fabrics staged demonstration in front of their factory gate at Pagar in the morning to press home their demands, including payment of arrear salary and Eid bonus.
The agitated workers at one stage went on rampage and vandalised 10 vehicles parked in front of the factory and set fire to its chemical godown. The unruly workers also took to Tongi-Pagar road, halting the transport movement for about two hours.
On information, police rushed to the spot and tried to control the situation by charging baton on the agitating workers. The police action made the workers more furious ensuing a chase and counter-chase among them. The agitating workers used brickbats, triggering a clash.
Police in reply lobbed teargas shells and fired rubber bullets to disperse the agitating workers, leaving 30 people injured.
Abdul Khaleque, Assistant Superintendent of Gazipur Industrial Police said: "At least 15,000 workers took part in the agitation, taking position on the Tongi-Pagar Road, and halted the transport movement for about two hours. The clash began when police tried to disperse the workers from the road.  At least 30 workers were injured."
The police lobbed 20 rounds of teargas shells and charged batons on the angry workers to restore discipline there, he said.
Selim Mia, Senior Station Officer of Tongi Fire Service and Civil Defence said: "The workers set fire to the godown around 9am. Getting information, a unit of fire engines rushed to the spot and doused the blaze at 11am. The extent of the damage could not be known instantly."
The situation is under control now and additional police have been deployed in the area, said Industrial police.
Contrarily, terming these as 'isolated incidents,' BGMEA vice-president Shahidullah Azim told The New Nation yesterday (Friday) that it is a big industry with 5000 factories. "So, some incidents may take place sometimes in the industry," he said.         
"We are committed to pay our workers partial wages for the current month along with festival allowance by July 26 so that all of them could celebrate Eid with their families joyfully," he said.  
The BGMEA leader requested the workers to have patience and not to resort to any kind of vandalism to keep peace in the industry.
Shahidullah Azim also sought support from the government and the labour leaders that they would help factory owners in paying the wages and festival allowances to the workers by the deadline.
"We are aware of the situation and nothing will occur this time. If any situation is created, we would be able to tackle it with the help of government and labour leaders," said first vice-president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA).
He said, the Department of Inspection of Factories and the Establishment with representatives from BGMEA and BKMEA had opened a control room to address the labour issues facing the RMG sector so that no untoward incident could occur before Eid.
"The garments owners have grown the mentality of avoiding disbursement of festival bonus to the workers which triggers unrest in the sector every year ahead of the two Eid festivals," said Amirul Haque Amin, a labour leader.
He urged the garment owners to come out from the non-cooperative mentality of paying not salary and bonus in time during the two Eid in order to establish working atmosphere in the garment industry.

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