Bangladeshi Garment Workers Fight for their Wages, 2014

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Timing
Time Period:  
July 9th
2014
to
October 15th
2014
Location and Goals
Country: 
Bangladesh
Location City/State/Province: 
Badda, Dhaka
Location Description: 
Inside and around the five Tuba factories (Tuba Fashion, Tuba Textile, Bukshan Garments, Tayeb Design and Mita Design)
Goals: 
Original demands:

The full payment of wages for the months of May, June, and July

Formal demands announced after the start of the campaign:

1) Payment of 1600 workers’ salaries and overtime in full with no further delay

2) Ensure regular employment of the workers in all the Tuba group factories

3) Cancel the owner, Delwar's bail and ensure his highest punishment

4) Provide compensation for the dead and injured workers of Tazreen garments

5) Compensate the workers who have been participating in the movement for their physical-psychological-financial loss.

 

Tuba Group factory workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, stood up against
exploitation in the summer of 2014. The company, in which five factories
made products for businesses like Walmart and H&M, had become
notorious in recent years for some of the lowest employee wages in the
world (about US $38 a month) and the 2012 “Tarzeen factory fire” that
killed 112 workers. Since February of 2014, Delwar Hossain, the owner of
the group, had been in jail for the workplace negligence that lead to
the tragedy. However, workers continued to face unfair treatment.
Workers in each factory did not receive wages for the Eid holiday
overtime pay, as well as the entire months of May, June, and July. By 10
June, many workers went on strike and virtually stopped production,
demanding their entitled wages. Week after week, however, they were met
with empty promises of wages to come.

To many Tuba workers, the real reason for missing wages from such a
profitable company became apparent. Factory management claimed that as
long as Hossain remained in jail, banks would not loan to the Group so
it was “not possible” to pay the wages. “Withholding workers’ wages was
dirty politics from the owners to have Delwar bailed out” believed
Moshrefa Mishu, the President of Garment Workers Unity Forum and the
Garments Sromik Oikko trade union. Many workers agreed with this
explanation. On 9 July, a procession of 500 factory workers, under no
formal leadership, blocked the widely-used Bishwa Road in Badda to
demand their unrealized wages. The group of mainly women workers
protested for half an hour, often throwing bricks and damaging passing
vehicles, according to local police. The police force used water cannons
on the protesters, injuring 10 women. Many women claimed that police
officers yelled profanities and threatened workers with rape throughout
the encounter.

On 24 June, several hundred workers marched to the Bangladesh Garment
Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) headquarters. The Tuba
Group workers besieged the building and demanded wages from this
organization, who represented the Bengali manufacturing industry as a
whole. Workers were promised that the wages would be paid by the 27th,
and when they weren’t, workers occupied one of the Tuba factories in
response. Until their demands were met, the laborers cared for the
factory and the mother-in-law of Hossain, who had been confined within
the factory. On the same day, the bail for Hossain was granted by the
High Court.

Moshrefa Mishnu talked to the labor minister and the President of BGMEA
on behalf of the laborers. She informed them that if the workers’
demands were not met by that night, a mass hunger strike would occur
among all of the workers. When there was no change, employees walked off
their jobs the next morning. As promised, the workers began hunger
striking on the 28th and almost 1,600 Tuba workers from all five
factories remained inside one of the units of Hossain Market in Badda,
Dhaka. As it was the first day of the religious holiday Eid, many
workers tried to arrange a prayer on the street in front of the
building. They were brutally attacked by police who had been deployed by
the government and company heads. Workers further demanded (in addition
to their wages and bonuses) the death penalty for Hossain, compensation
for the 112 lives lost in the Tarzeen tragedy, and pay for the time and
energy spent waging protest against the Tuba Group.

The Tuba Group Workers Movement Committee (TGWMC) was formally created
by Mishnu. Joly Talukder, the Joint General Secretary of the Garments
Sramik Trade Union Centre, also shared coordination leadership of the
campaign planning. By July 30th, 112 workers had fallen ill as a result
of the fast, with 14 hospitalized. At a press briefing that day, the
BGMEA acting president Mannan Kochi announced that “two months salary
would be given to the workers” starting that week, and the rest was to
be paid by Hossain by August 10th. Four days later, Mishnu responded
that "the hunger strike will continue until all workers of the Tuba
Group get their wages, bonuses, overtime dues and allowances."

On August 4th, a large scale protest was held in front of Dhaka’s Jatiya
Press Club. Sangkhuddho Nari Samaj (Aggrieved Women's Society) formed a
“human chain” to demonstrate solidarity with the workers.
Representatives from 12 human and labor-rights organizations advocated
for the Tuba workers, including Jatiyatabadi Sramik Dal, Gonotantrik Bam
Morcha, Nagarik Oikya Forum, and several left-leaning political
parties. Another human chain was organized the next day by esteemed High
Court lawyers in front of the Bangladesh High Court. Additionally,
university teachers joined the hunger strike and the TGWMC organized a
sit-in in front of BGMEA. That night, Hossain was released on bail and
immediately claimed that he could not pay the wages because his
factories’ insurance companies did not give him any money.

As protests continued in the Hossain Market on the 6th, human rights
defenders were attacked and brutalized by police with batons and
teargas. Two hundred workers were physically forced out of the sixth
floor of the building. Mishnu, Talukder, and the leader of the Communist
Party Monjur Moin (a prominent ally) were detained by police, and
Hossain’s mother-in-law was taken into police custody. The next morning,
the Clean Clothes Campaign issued a demand for the release of the
leaders and announced a national strike of all garment factories.
Instead of addressing the demands on the 8th, the police cut off the
factory water supply, locked the factory doors, and shot workers and
allies with rubber bullets. Mishnu and Talukder were released at 9pm.

Finally, on August 11th, a partial victory was achieved. The Tuba Group
gave the overdue monthly wages of May, June, and July to its striking
workers, though workers claimed that not all 1,600 workers were fully
paid. The Group did not issue payment of the Eid-ul-Azha bonuses
however, and protests continued.

The most sudden turn of events occurred one week later, when Hossain
suddenly closed down all five factories, stripping workers of a place of
employment. The owner claimed that the factories could only reopen if
“the company could obtain a government-backed bank loan of 250-300
million Taka ($US3.2-3.8 million) at a lower interest rate”, while
worker-advocates insisted that they had evidence that Hossain could
afford to keep the factories running (as well as pay out the remaining
due wages).

Four hundred workers marched on August 20th, demanding the reopening of
the factories and the reinstatement of its employees, either in the Tuba
company or other factories.

At a rally in front of the National Press Club organized by Garment
Sramik Samannay Parishad on September 5th, Shipping Minister Shahjahan
Khan announced that "we would ensure the rightful demands of the Tuba
Group workers in exchange of our blood if necessary.” Later that month,
the government determined that the September wages and bonuses would be
paid by October 2nd. Protests continued outside of the BGMEA
headquarters.

On October 15th, leaders, workers, and allies finally forced their way
into Hossain’s office and locked him inside (with stated intentions of
only dialogue, not violence). After 18 long hours, the owner was finally
released after he paid bonuses to 900 workers, amounting to about 5
million taka (US $64,000). Though the factories remained closed, workers
ended their hunger strike and were pleased to receive their pay. While
some workers were able to find factory work elsewhere, many were unable
to regain employment due to their involvement in this struggle.

Research Notes
Influences: 

(1) Influenced by Tarzeen tragedy protests

Sources: 
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Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Jasmine Rashid 2/28/15