Spain PM urges calm in face of ‘authoritarian delusions’ in Catalonia

Deputies of the Catalan Parliament pose with ballot boxes after the presentation of the details of the Oct. 1 referendum, in Barcelona on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 05 July 2017

Spain PM urges calm in face of ‘authoritarian delusions’ in Catalonia

MADRID: Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called Wednesday for calm in the face of “authoritarian delusions” in Catalonia, as tensions between Madrid and separatists in the northeastern region surged over an independence drive.
“To all Catalans, to all Spaniards, I want to tell you to maintain confidence in the future as authoritarian delusions ... will never defeat the serenity and harmony of our democratic state,” Rajoy said at a gathering in Madrid.
His comments came a day after the separatist coalition that governs Catalonia, a wealthy region of 7.5 million inhabitants with its own language and customs, unveiled a bill aimed at ensuring an independence referendum takes place despite Madrid’s refusal.
Lawmakers who form the coalition said Catalonia would declare independence “immediately” if the region’s voters opt to separate from Spain in the vote planned for Oct. 1.
If the “no” side wins, new regional elections will be called, they added.
The bill aims to extract the region from Spain’s legal system — a step aimed at preventing the central authorities from throwing up any legal and practical challenges to organizing a referendum.
It will be submitted to a vote in the Catalan regional Parliament, where separatists hold a majority, at the end of August.
For years separatist politicians in the region have tried to win approval from Spain’s central government to hold a vote similar to Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum from Britain — which was approved by London, though it resulted in a “no” vote.
But Madrid has remained steadfast in its opposition to such a vote, considering it a threat to Spain’s unity.
The Constitutional Court has already quashed a resolution approved by Catalonia’s Parliament calling for the referendum to take place.
It has also warned Catalonia’s elected officials that they would face legal consequences if they took any steps toward holding such a vote.
And while not mentioning Catalonia directly, Defense Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal issued a thinly-veiled threat on Tuesday, recalling that the army was there to defend democracy and the Constitution, and the “integrity and sovereignty of our country.”
In his speech, Rajoy said “Spain is a great country because it counts on the energy of many Spaniards, and many Catalans too who are sensible, democratic and moderate, and increasingly forgotten by a ... radical and divisive change of direction.”
Catalans are divided on the issue of independence.
Some 48.5 percent are against independence and 44.3 percent are in favor, according to a recent regional government poll — although a large majority want a referendum to take place to settle the matter once and for all.
On top of this, the Catalan executive has been wracked by internal debate over the issue, unable to find a way to guarantee the credibility of such a vote, if it ever manages to hold it faced with Madrid’s refusal.
It has no regional election authority to oversee the vote, for instance, and has not found any reliable companies willing to provide ballot boxes.
Aside from the legal bans of the Constitutional Court, the central government has also threatened civil servants with sanctions if they help organize the referendum, and has warned companies against any involvement.

Thousands of Bangladeshi factory workers left without salary on Eid

Updated 3 min 59 sec ago

Thousands of Bangladeshi factory workers left without salary on Eid

  • 4,000 textile factories in Bangladesh employ over 4 million workers

DHAKA: More than 10,000 Bangladeshi garment factory workers spent the last day of Ramadan protesting for salaries but were left without allowances to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr with their families on Monday. 

According to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), up to 60 factories did not pay their workers before the Eid holidays while 478 have closed over the past two months after orders worth more than $3.15 billion were canceled and payments stopped by Western retailers.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the country’s textile industry has received a huge blow to its exports as many Western retailers have withheld payments for orders that have been placed or delivered. 

In March, the Bangladeshi government announced a stimulus package of $600 million in lieu of salaries and bonuses for the garment workers. 

“Most of our factories have paid the workers their salaries and bonuses before Eid. However, few couldn’t clear the payments as they had lost all work orders and faced an extreme financial crunch,” Arshad Jamal Dipu, vice president of the BGMEA, told Arab News.

“The factories which were unable to pay their workers were the ones that didn’t qualify to apply for the government stimulus package. These are mainly small and medium-scale factories that worked as subcontractors for big factories,” Dipu added. 

According to government guidelines, only factories that have exported 80 percent of their products in recent years could claim government funding.  

Dipu said that in many cases the buyers are offering a discounted rate or deferred payment to the Bangladeshi garment suppliers citing an “act of God” which threw the industry into a “vulnerable situation.”

Nazma Akter, president of the combined garment workers’ federation, said her organization has the information of around 20,000 factory workers who were left unpaid before Eid. 

“We will sit with factory owners as well as the BGMEA leaders immediately after the Eid vacation. Our factory workers should be paid immediately as they belong to the marginalized group of society,” Akter told Arab News. 

Meanwhile, the government is considering legal action against factories that have failed to pay their workers on time. 

“The factory management was supposed to pay all the dues before Eid holidays. We will file cases in the labor court against the factory authorities once the courts resume after Eid vacation,” Shib Nath Roy, inspector general of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, told Arab News, adding: “We will also stop renewing their licence to operate for failing to pay staff’s dues.”

Textile exports are the largest foreign currency earning source for Bangladesh. 

Last year, the sector earned $36 billion for the country, according to the BGMEA.

There are over 4,000 textile factories in the country employing more than 4 million workers, most of which are women, the body said.