Following the imprisonment and framing of workers in false cases, unions in Bangladesh have asked the government to intervene. In a letter addressed to the Minister of Labour and Employment last week, IndustriALL Bangladesh Council demanded that the authorities take the initiative of reinstating the dismissed workers who were forced to resign for taking part in the mass protests last December.
Activists said that the Sheikh Hasina-led government has arrested more than hundred workers, retrenched over 12,000, and filed cases against over 5,000 workers in the aftermath of workers’ uprising for better wages that began in December and lasted for many weeks. This is in addition to thousands of workers who were fired towards the end of January for the same reason.
“We are deeply concerned over the continuing violations of workers’ rights in Bangladesh. It is unacceptable that the employers are continuing to be active agents of persecution; the government and multinational brands cannot remain quiet accomplices and need to take immediate action,” Valter Sanches, general secretary of the IndustriALL Global Union, stated.
The country’s present dispensation, as well as the Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association of Bangladesh, assured that no worker will be prosecuted for their active participation in union activities. But as many as 107 ready-made garment units have reportedly used this opportunity to penalize workers, mainly from plant-level trade unions.
On February 26, a total of 300 workers at Garib & Garib Company Limited were fired without receiving two month’s wages. Around the same time, almost 2,500 workers were dismissed from the East West Group and Abanti Color Tex factories.
A number of workers were physically threatened by unidentified persons, who asked them to stop demanding higher wages. Workers also said that finding a new job is difficult as the companies kept track of their antecedents using biometric data, which is linked to employment records, with the aim of identifying whether they participated in protests or had any links to trade unions.
However in the recent case, the companies blacklisted the dismissed workers and union activists, and published photos and names of retrenched workers on their website, making it more difficult for workers to find alternative employment.
“Bangladesh garment workers are facing unprecedented repression. Employers are targeting union activists and dismissing workers at will. Many are arrested on false charges and large numbers of workers fear arrests. The use of the database, created with the good intent, to blacklist workers must end immediately. The government must act immediately and release the imprisoned, reinstate the retrenched, and stop repression and harassment of workers,” Salauddin Shapon, secretary general of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council, said in a statement.