DHAKA: More than 7,000 garment workers in Bangladesh lost their jobs after they protested for higher wages, a leading trade union said Monday.
Bangladesh supplies famous brands including Gap, Walmart and H&M, and its clothing industry is worth $30 billion. But the minimum monthly wage for garment workers in factories is $102.
More than 150 factories in Dhaka and its outskirts suspended operations from Jan. 5 to 13 as workers took to the streets to demand higher wages.
The National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) said around 30 police cases had been registered against 4,000 workers, while more than 100 people had been arrested since the protests started.
“Many of our workers are still on the run and cannot spend the night at home fearing arrest by law enforcers,” Amirul Huq Amin, NGWF president, told Arab News.
Workers had been fired without reason, said another trade unionist.
“In some cases, the factory management served show cause notices to the workers but they were dismissed from their services at the end of the day,” Dr. Wajed Ali Khan, general secretary of the Bangladesh Trade Union Center, told Arab News. “This type of dismissal from the job is completely inhuman and immoral. We are planning to sit with all the stakeholders to find a solution to this issue.”
Workers who lost their jobs said they were told their services were no longer required. Then, a few days later, they received a payout from their employer.
“I was in jail for 16 days and just got bail last week,” 28-year-old Mohammad Ali Hossain told Arab News. “After getting out of jail, I contacted the factory management but on Saturday, I received a compensation of $250 from my owner.”
Of the 1,200 workers at his factory, 92 were fired on Jan. 14 and 15 while seven had police cases registered against them.
Shariful Islam, 22, said he was dismissed from his job without notice on Jan. 11.
“There are 2,000 workers in my factory and 255 of them lost their jobs on January 11,” said Islam. “I received compensation of $200 on Jan. 26,” he said.
“After the dismissal, I contacted other garment factories to bag a new job but all of them refused to employ me as I was terminated from my factory.”
Police said hundreds of cases had been filed against garment workers for their alleged involvement in vandalizing public and private property.
“In Ashulia Industrial Zone which includes three police stations — Ashulia, Dhamrai and Savar — at least 14 cases have been filed against hundreds of garment factory workers in connection with their alleged involvement in vandalizing public and private property,” Mohammad Mahmudur Rahman, Ashulia industrial zone police intelligence inspector, told Arab News.
An organization representing factory owners denied that thousands had lost their jobs because of the protests.
“Due to the latest wage hike, some small and medium scale factories may have faced certain issues with regards to their capacity to pay salaries regularly. In this situation, the owners can reduce the number of employees with due process according to the labor law,” Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told Arab News.
Rahman said the BGMEA had an arbitration unit headed by a judge where any disputes or grievances could be resolved in the presence of all concerned parties. It sat twice a week.
“We are very much concerned about maintaining stability in the country’s ready-made garment sector and if the trade union leaders come up with any such issue, we will sit together to find a way out of any situation,” he added.
He also suggested garment workers register complaints through a hotline established by the Labor Ministry.
Around 4.4 million people, most of them female, are employed in the country’s garment industry. Bangladesh is the second-biggest global garment exporter after China.