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50 factories shut, 40 hurt in clashes over RMG wage row

Body decides in principle to remove discrepancies

FE Report | January 11, 2019 12:00:00

Garment workers staging demonstration at Shewrapara, Mirpur in the city on Thursday demanding cancellation of the 'discriminatory' wage board award announced by the government for them — Collected

Around 40 people were injured in clashes between workers of readymade garment (RMG) factories and members of law enforcement agencies on the fifth day of agitation on Thursday in different industrial hubs.

The protests continued amid the first meeting of the government-formed committee on the day that decided in principle to re-adjust the wage structures by removing inconsistencies.

On the day, garment workers staged demonstrations at Savar, Ashulia of Dhaka and in Gazipur and also in the capital's Mirpur and Shewrapara areas demanding elimination of wage inequality in the latest wage structure.

At around 8:00am, workers of different factories gathered at Jamgora of Savar to stage demo but the police tried to disperse them.

Following the incident, the workers got locked in a clash that led to chase and counter-chase.

As the demonstrators tried to put up a resistance by blocking roads and throwing brickbats, the police also charged batons and used teargas to disperse them, said a policeman seeking anonymity.

About 30 people got hurt during the repeated clashes, according to witnesses.

Talking to the FE, Sana Shaminur Rahman, director of Industrial Police (Savar and Ashulia zone), said that they requested the workers to go back to work as the government had been holding talks with garment owners and labour leaders to resolve their problems.

However, sporadic demonstrations also took place in Kathgora, Ramgora and Berun areas of Ashulia in the morning. Clashes in these areas left around 10 persons injured.

Besides, workers of different factories took to streets in the city's Mirpur circle-10, Kazipara and Shewrapara causing immense traffic congestions in adjacent areas.

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) sources said around 50 factories were shut on the day because of ongoing workers' agitation.

The protesters alleged that monthly wages of the workers in the seventh grade increased to Tk 8,000 from Tk 5,300 in the latest wage structure gazette published by the government last year.

But, wages of the workers in other grades did not increase at the same rate.

The wage hike for the entry-level workers was more than that of their senior operators, who have been working for more than seven to eight years in the industry.

The major disparity in the wage hike was noticed in the third and fourth grades, as wages of the workers belonging to these grades did not increase like that of the entry-level workers.

In the new wage structure, only Tk 500 was raised in most of the grades, other than the seventh, whereas an entry-level worker's wage was increased by Tk 2,700, they observed.

Meanwhile, police filed a case against unknown persons over the incident of death of a garment worker named Suman Mia, Savar police station officer-in-charge (OC) Md Abdul Awal told the FE.

Last Tuesday (January 8), workers clashed with police near Hemayetpur during their agitation that left Suman, 22, a worker of Anlima Textiles, dead. Another 30 were also injured there.

The government-formed committee will sit again on Sunday to decide on how to resolve the wage issues, especially with regard to the grades 3 to 5, taking the workers' grievances into account.

The committee also opined that the wage structure was not the only reason for the ongoing labour unrest in the country's readymade garment (RMG) sector, rather there was a 'conspiracy' of a vested group that instigated the unrests.

"We will sit on next Sunday (January 13) to analysis the wage issues in depth, how and where to adjust as labour leaders made their observations about the grades three to five," labour secretary Afroza Khan, also head of the committee, told the reporters after the nearly two-hour-long meeting held at her secretariat office in the city.

She sought time saying that a problem has arisen over the issue that necessitated re-adjustment.

Earlier, the core committee on crisis management in an emergency meeting headed by the state minister for labour held on January 08 formed the 20-member committee to recommend the latest wage structures announced in December 2018 for the garment workers.

The panel has been assigned to address the grievances regarding the pay structure within one month.

Ms Khan said they discussed the issue with both garment factory owners and labour leaders.

Labour leaders informed the meeting that the wage hike had not been made proportionately under the grades three to five as was in the 7th grade, she noted.

The government fixed Tk 8000-about 51 per cent rise from Tk 5300-as monthly minimum wage for entry level garment workers, effective from last December.

Terming the government labour-friendly, Ms Khan said, "The government is very serious about resolving the issue."

She said that they would resolve the issue within the shortest possible time before the one month timeframe and urged the agitating workers to have trust in the government.

She, however, said, "We think the wage structure is not the only issue behind the ongoing labour unrest. There might be some other issues as there are some factories where workers received higher amount than wage structure. But those units were vandalised."

She said that a vested quarter might instigate workers to create instability in the country's RMG sector.

Reiterating the government's previous assurance that basic or gross wage of no workers would decline, she urged workers to peacefully join their respective workplaces.

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) president Md Siddiqur Rahman, its former presidents Atiqul Islam, Abdus Salam Murshedy, Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) president Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, labour leaders Touhidur Rahman, Nazma Akter, Sirajul Islam Rony, Montu Ghosh, Salahuddin Shapon, among other representatives from law enforcing agencies, were present there.

Before the meeting apparel sector leaders held a meeting with the state minister for labour at her secretariat office.


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