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Rights groups raise concerns over mass termination of RMG workers

Monira Munni | September 01, 2019 00:00:00

The rights groups have raised concerns over the mass termination of workers in the country's readymade garment (RMG) factories, with the latest incident of firing 701 workers by a single unit.

The termination issue has also caused pressure from international arena, including International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Bangladesh's largest export destination - European Union (EU), resulting in risks of eroding trade benefits especially in EU, industry people said.

There were allegations that more than 1,000 workers have been 'unfairly terminated or dismissed' due to their engagement in the wage-hike demonstrations that took place during last December and January.

Following the allegation, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) had formed a joint committee to investigate the issue while Primark suspended sourcing from one of its local suppliers after its investigation found some breaches of its Code of Conduct.

Some 701 workers at SF Denim Apparels in Dhaka found themselves laid off without any prior information after they came back from Eid holiday, according to a statement issued by IndustriAll Global Union (IGU) on August 29.

As workers returned to the factory after Eid vacation on 18 August, SF Denim Apparels cited 'work order shortage' and announced one of the largest terminations in Bangladeshi garment factories in recent times.

At least half of the 701 workers just fired wanted to form a trade union under the leadership of IndustriALL affiliate Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF), it said.

Citing unions, SF Denim Apparels has consistently been obstructing efforts to organise and form a union, it alleged.

In response to efforts to form a union in 2018, the company fired more than a hundred workers - 38 of the workers launched court cases against the employer, which are still ongoing.

The practice is continuing; in early August, days before the Eid vacation, five workers involved in organising union were laid off.

"We are deeply concerned over the mass layoffs; the workers are obviously targeted over their involvement in union activities," the statement quoted Nazma Akter, IndustriALL Executive Committee member and SGSF president.

More than 30 of the terminated workers are pregnant and will now not receive any benefits, she told the FE on Saturday. She demanded SF Denim Apparels to reinstate all the fired workers.

SGSF has contacted brands that source from SF Denim like C&A, H&M and Benetton, seeking their intervention to reinstate the terminated workers, the IGU statement said, adding that the union is yet to receive a response from them.

When asked, BGMEA president Dr Rubana Huq claimed that SF Denim was suffering seriously from lack of work orders for last six months. Because of this, the unit let its workers go with settlement of full benefits, she claimed.

Terming the number of 30 pregnant women 'impossible', she said the authority got no such claim.

If lawful, termination should not be an issue as Bangladesh has no exit policy or bankruptcy laws like the developed countries, she said.

"So if a factory can't run, they should be allowed to compensate and exit. SF denims has done that," Ms Huq noted.

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