Mahfuja Mukul: The owners have said to take a ‘strong stand’ as the agitation continues even after the minimum wage has been fixed at Tk 12,500 for the workers of the garment industry made in Bangladesh.
In a meeting on Thursday night, Garment Factory Owners’ Association or BGMEA took several decisions, including stopping the recruitment of new workers, closing the factory if necessary and filing a case with the police in case of vandalism and fighting.
“Because the workers come to the factory and punch cards and leave or sit and do not work, we have been forced to close some factories under Section 1 of 13,” said Siddiqur Rahman, former president of BGMEA.
This section of the Bangladesh Labor Law states, “Due to an illegal strike in any branch or department of any establishment, the owner may close the branch or establishment partially or completely, and in case of such closure, the workers participating in the strike shall not receive any wages.”
However, in such a situation, the decision of the owners will create more distance with the workers, the labor leaders think.
“Given many factories are closed, factories cannot be run like this,” said Nazma Akhtar, president of the Combined Garments Workers Federation. Besides, regarding the decision taken by BGMEA to take legal action after seeing the video of the case and vandalism, he said, “They are filing a case, many arrests have been made.
Now if a case is filed after watching the video, then the innocent workers should not fall into it. Everyone says there’s politics here, so let’s find out.”
Inamul Haque Khan, director of the organization and businessman, was present in the meeting of BGMEA. He further explained the owner’s position to BBC Banga.
“It is a zone decision of Ashulia, if others can run factories outside, will run. no problem We saw normal everywhere, only Ashulia was going out of control, so we shut down there, but factories are running everywhere else,” he said.
However, Inamul Haque Khan claimed that the situation is going towards normal. “We are talking to the workers. They are happy with the salary increase. But some organizations are creating issues.”
Siddiqur Rahman is also saying the same thing. He said that even though workers accepted the new wages, “outsiders are fueling it”. “We do not have grievances of ordinary workers. But those who are outsiders, vandalism, injustice, they must be brought under the law.”
The leaders of the trade unions, however, are insisting on solving the problem through negotiations. Tuhin Chowdhury, president of Bangladesh Garment Workers Trade Union Federation, said that employers can negotiate with workers on a regional basis.
“But the owners are stubborn, they will not sit down. No need to sit with us. Let the organization of the organization in which there is a problem work,” said Tuhin Chowdhury.
Siddiqur Rahman, however, claimed that discussions were held with the workers and they accepted the wages. He mentioned that only one or two organizations are still not complying.
What happens with wages?
Last in 2018, the minimum wage of garment workers was fixed at Tk 8,000. But taking into account the price hike of daily necessities, the garment factory workers have been demanding salary hike since the beginning of this year.
In view of this demand, the government constituted the minimum wage board last April to determine the new wage scale. In the fourth meeting of the board last October, the representatives of the labor side demanded a minimum wage of Tk 20,393.
On the other hand, a proposal came from the factory owners to set the wages at Tk 10,400. Angry at this wage proposal of the owner, the workers started agitation in some factories of Gazipur on October 23. Later it spread to different places including Mirpur, Ashulia, Savar.
The workers also clashed with the police. In all, three people were reported dead in this protest. After a long discussion with the owners, finally on November 7, the government of Bangladesh increased the basic wage by 56.25 percent and set the minimum wage at Tk 12,500.
One side of the workers accepted this announcement of increase in wages but another side did not accept it. Instead, they continued to protest in different places. In such a situation, Garment Owners Association – BGMEA announced the application of Section 13 of Bangladesh Labor Act.
Worker-owner distance to increase?
The labor side feels that this decision of BGMEA will increase the crisis. But CPD Research Director Khandaker Golam Moazzem doesn’t think so.
He said, I think the decision of BGMEA is partly due to the law-and-order situation. Another is tactical, to put pressure on a decision. I don’t think it will increase the distance between the two sides, but what they want to understand in the discussion, what are the demands of the workers?
He said that labor leaders and workers have always been agitating for wages in Bangladesh. It is a normal culture to make demands and pressure. He also emphasized on two-sided talks.
“There is a need to move towards a solution without one party blaming the other. A decision must be made in the middle,” said Moazzem.
Labor leader Najma Akhtar also spoke about the discussion. “Our demand is to revise the wages through negotiation, talk to the workers.”
But BGMEA leaders say that the owners will struggle to pay the wages that have already been fixed.
“Our buyers are not paying more, only one of my 15 buyers has said they will pay or increase a bit, but we don’t know how to pay,” said BGMEA director Inamul Haque.
He added, “I admit that it was necessary to increase the salary, I increased it by 56%, but it is not possible to increase it more, we do not have that capacity.”
However, all parties are saying that this ongoing crisis in the clothing sector will be over soon. Because both the owners and the workers have to count the losses as a result of this movement.
“There is less chance of it getting longer, it has been seen before that it doesn’t get longer. Because both parties understand that whether there is profit or not, the loss is greater for both, they understand that and come to a solution,” said Khandkar Golam Moazzem.
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