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Bangladesh's Garment Workers Intensify Protest for Wage Raise After two Killed

The striking employees claimed their minimum pay should be Rs 23,000 starting January next year, following the new remuneration structure.

Dhaka: Bangladesh’s garment workers from factories in Dhaka and its surrounding areas have been staging protests for over a week for their wages to be raised. 

What began as a peaceful movement is turning into a more aggressive one as workers at several locations blocked highways in support of their demands. 

The movement takes place in the wake of the untimely death of Russell Howladar, a 26-year-old employee who was allegedly shot and killed by the police. In a fire, one more worker perished.

For the last week, the employees of many textile companies in the districts of Gazipur, Mirpur, Ashulia, Savar, and Narayanganj in Dhaka have persisted in their agitation and demand for a pay rise.

The striking employees claimed their minimum pay should be Rs 23,000 starting January next year, following the new remuneration structure. Because of this, their grades are meant to be adjusted this month, but the factory owner has not acted to raise the pay or modify the grade yet. Their intention is to continue operating the factory on the previous wage structure.

Shafiqul Molla, an agitating worker, said that currently, they get a salary of Rs 8,000. According to the new wage structure, their salary is supposed to be Rs 23,000, but the owner is ready to increase it only to Rs 10,000 to 11,000. They should have increased this salary by changing grades, but the owners did not negotiate with the workers regarding the new wage hike and the grade change. That is why they are forced to take to the streets, they said.

A protester, Abu Sufian, said, “Now I get a salary of Rs. 8,000. The current rise in commodity prices cannot be sustained. Therefore, everyone has started a movement to increase the salary.”

Another agitating worker, Ali Ahmed, said, “In the current market, the prices of all kinds of goods have increased, but our salaries have not increased even though the prices of goods have increased. We are paid around Rs 8,000 per month. With this money, the family cannot be run by paying the monthly expenses and the child’s school fees. So, we have demanded to make our salary a minimum of 23 thousand rupees.”

Shafiqul Islam, a protesting worker, said that “everyone entered the factory in the morning, but they stopped the machine. At one stage, when the workers of other factories came down on the road, they also joined the protest march on the road, and the police then fired tear gas shells and drove them away.”

The Industrial Area Police-2 said that a worker died in a clash with the police during the ongoing workers’ movement in Gazipur, demanding an increase in wages.

After the death of a worker in a police firing, the agitating workers set fire to the garment factory of Anant Group’s ABM Fashion Limited in Gazipur. Fire service personnel brought the fire under control. At least 50 garment workers were injured by rubber bullets and baton charges during the labour-police clash. Fifteen of them have been admitted to Gazipur Shaheed Tajuddin Ahmad Medical College Hospital.

According to local sources, workers have been protesting in Konabari and surrounding areas since the morning of October 30 for seven days, demanding a salary hike. The police clashed with the workers several times. Later, the police dispersed the protesters by firing tear gas shells and rubber bullets. 

Meanwhile, an injured worker died in Gazipur’s Basan area. When the news spread, the workers started protesting again in the Konabari area. In the meantime, the ABM Fashion Limited factory was set on fire in that area.

The police also clashed with garment workers in Dhaka’s Mirpur, Ashulia, Savar, and Narayanganj. Several workers were injured in the incident.

Various labour organisations and garment workers have been demanding increased wages in Bangladesh for the past several months. Additionally, various international organisations and countries were pressuring the country’s authorities to increase the wages of garment workers.

The workers have demanded a wage of Rs 23,000, but the government and the owners have not made any kind of compromise on the matter so far. On the other hand, although there is a wage increase at the beginning of the new year, the owner has not yet discussed with the workers the new wage increase along with the grade change. As a result, the workers in the garment industry started protesting directly on the streets to demand an increase in wages.

According to the sources of the Industrial Police, workers’ dissatisfaction was seen in 69 factories in Ashulia, Gazipur, and Narayanganj areas from October 22 to 28 due to the demand for salary and wage increases. 

State Minister for Labour Mannujan Sufian held a meeting with the labour leaders last Sunday. About 100 leaders of trade unions and federations were present in the meeting held at Shram Bhavan. They urged the government to announce minimum wages for garment workers soon. In response, the state minister said there is time until November 30 to recommend it to the wage board, and the new wages will be implemented on December 1.

The angry workers complained that when they took to the streets to demand an increase in wages, the police beat the workers. Tear shells and rubber bullets were fired at them, while in some places, the workers were attacked by outsiders.

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