Almost 5,000 garment sector employees were sacked on January 29 for taking part in protests a few weeks ago against low wages and repression. Unions said the number might be higher while a hundred more have been arrested in roundups.
IndustriAll Bangladesh’s general secretary, Salauddin Shapon, told local newspapers that a large number of workers who work for global companies were feeling intimidated. “Cases have been filed against 3,000 unidentified workers, which has created panic. Many have opted to stop going to factories,” he said. In one company alone, almost 1,200 workers were sacked.
Earlier, when thousands of workers hit the streets of Dhaka and elsewhere for several days, demanding that their monthly salary be doubled from 8,000 Tk to 16,000 Tk ($191 per month), the state authorities responded with the use of force that left over 50 workers injured and one dead.
The government of Sheikh Hasina had earlier agreed to a paltry pay rise. Workers complained that even after these changes, they were earning only poverty wages. The 51% hike is too low. It does not even meet the cost of rising prices, protesters had said.
Bangladesh’s textile industry is the second largest in the world after China, with exports valued at almost $30 billion last year. Even as this industry has seen rapid expansion, the harsh reality remains that the workers struggle to make ends meet. A large number of workers are paid $95 per month.
Jenny Holdcroft, assistant general secretary of IndustriAll Global Union, in a response to the recent protests, has pointed out that the anger (within) the garment workers over wage disparities was a reflection of the urgent need for industry bargaining to enable unions to negotiate fair wage outcomes for all workers.
Almost 85% of the workforce in the textile industry are women, who work in the absence of basic amenities and without the proper enforcement of laws granting maternity leave and benefits. The 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse, one of the worst industrial accidents in the country, saw the deaths of 1,134 people and over 2,500 injuries.
Garment workers had also protested in 2016 over salary hikes but were met with severe repression from the State. Over 1,500 workers lost their jobs for participating in the demonstrations.