Following a protest in the capital’s southeast region by hundreds of garment workers demanding their pending salaries, Bangladeshi police stopped participants from joining meetings in Chittagong where a regional committee of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC) was supposed to be formed.
Reports suggest that the wages of the majority of the furloughed garment workers remain pending for the past three months. At least 80% of the dismissed workers were reportedly sent home without severance pay in 2020.
On 24 September, the police halted at least two meetings of the Bangladesh Independent Garment Union Federation (BIGUF) regional committee. When IndustriALL Bangladesh Council leaders arrived, police officers — some in plainclothes — intercepted them from attending the meeting.
Workers attempting to form independent unions have found it difficult because of the violent repression and structural scrutiny. International trade unions seeking remedies against the persecution of unions and garment workers have widely condemned the continuous state repression. Following the healthcare crisis in Bangladesh, the cases of violence and detentions against union leaders have spiked.
Due to union activities and global pressure seeking safer working conditions, this August, the major global retailers finally “agreed on a two-year pact with garment workers and factory owners” in Bangladesh. The legally binding international agreement makes retailers liable if their factories do not meet “labor safety standards.”
Bangladesh’s factories employ millions of workers and the country is considered the second-largest exporter of readymade garments in the world. According to union representatives, post COVID-19 several brands asked to shave half the price-off goods already produced, and workers’ salaries were already cut by a third. Pregnant women were often singled out for layoffs, the consequence of which was that companies did not have to pay maternity benefits to the women.
“What happened in Chittagong violates the most basic of workers’ rights. Police forces intervening and obstructing the activities of independent unions is unacceptable,” Atle Hoie, IndustriALL general secretary, stated.