|The News Line: Feature
Tuesday, 19 June 2012
300 garment factories shut down in Bangladesh!
BANGLADESH garment bosses have indefinitely shut down all operations in over 300 factories at a key industrial hub after five days of violent protests over wages.
President of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, announced the plants would reopen only after the government ensures ‘enough security’.
Most of Bangladesh’s big garment factories are based in Ashulia.
They employ around half a million workers who sew clothing for some of the world’s largest retailers such as Wal-Mart, Gap, Tesco, H&M and Carrefour.
‘We have decided to close down more than 300 factories at Ashulia industrial area indefinitely. We can’t operate in this climate of fear and lawlessness,’ Mohiuddin said.
The decision followed the fifth day of protests by tens of thousands of workers who clashed with police, vandalised plants and blocked a key highway for hours, senior police officer Monowar Hossain said.
‘Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the agitated workers,’ Hossain added.
The violence in the last five days left scores of policemen and hundreds of protesters injured, police officers have said.
Employees – who work 10-16 hours a day, six days a week, for the lowest garment sector wages in the world – are demanding a 50 per cent pay hike and subsidised food to cope with the rising cost of living.
Union leader Babul Akter claimed last Thursday that manufacturers at Ashulia had agreed to raise wages. Some owners also announced that they would raise the wages to help workers cope with increases in rent.
But the BGMEA, which represents all of the country’s 4,500 garment factories, denied sealing any deal with the unions.
‘It’s a lie, total lie. We raised workers salaries by 82 per cent just 18 months ago. It’s impossible to raise salaries again,’ Mohiuddin said.
In 2010, Bangladesh garment factories were hit by months of violent protests that forced the government and factory owners to agree to increase wages by 80 per cent, or a minimum $37 per month.
The export of garments, which made $19 billion for the impoverished country last year, is the mainstay of the economy of Bangladesh, accounting for 80 per cent of its total shipments.
Tensions have been brewing at Ashulia and other textile manufacturing zones in recent months following the abduction and murder of a top garment union leader in April.
Unions have accused Bangladesh’s feared security forces of killing him.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged an independent probe into the incident when she visited the country last month.
Meanwhile in Denmark, the textile, garment and leather workers’ unions from across the globe are meeting in Copenhagen to share experiences about the long struggle for a living wage in their industry.
From Africa to Asia and Latin America the Living Wage has become a global issue and central to the Decent Work Agenda, Jyrki Raina, the in-coming general secretary of IndustriALL explained.
Poverty wages have a devastating impact on workers. In Cambodia thousands of malnourished workers have fainted in the last two years, and in Bangladesh they are being forced to survive on a dollar a day.
The two-day conference will evaluate the global campaign to date and map out a strategy to defend low-paid textile and garment workers by building a global living wage campaign.
‘Achieving a living wage for textile and garment workers depends on many factors not least the actions of governments, multinationals and agencies such as the ILO.
‘How then can IndustriALL engage with such bodies to ensure that payment of a living wage remains high on the political agenda?
‘Your unions have successfully publicised the poverty wages paid to workers in the textile, garment and leather sectors.
‘I am hoping to hear now how the new IndustriALL’s can build on this work and help to strengthen this aspect of the campaign?’ Jyrki Raina said in the lead up to the two-day Living Wage conference being held in Denmark involving 130 delegates.
l ‘No longer servants, but workers’ is the essence of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 189, the ratification of which was sought by domestic workers who organised a ‘human chain’ in front of the Secretariat in Geneva on Friday.
The 100th ILO Conference had adopted a resolution regarding decent work for domestic workers. The ‘human chain’ organised by the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) demanded that the government should implement the provisions ratified by the convention.
The association said that no minimum wages were offered to them, there were no fixed work hours, and they were denied respect and dignity from their employers.
‘Seven years ago, I was paid just Rs.40 a day, when I worked from 8.00am to 4.00pm. Now it has gone up to Rs.130.
‘This is still not enough, as I have a 10-year-old son to look after on my own,’ said one worker, Vasantha.
The government, workers’ and employers’ delegates at the 100th annual Conference of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on Thursday, 16 June, adopted a historic set of international standards aimed at improving the working conditions of tens of millions of domestic workers worldwide.
‘We are moving the standards system of the ILO into the informal economy for the first time, and this is a breakthrough of great significance,’ said Juan Somavia, ILO Director-General. ‘History is being made.’
Conference delegates adopted the Convention on Domestic Workers (2011) by a vote of 396 to 16, with 63 abstentions, and the accompanying Recommendation by a vote of 434 to eight, with 42 abstentions.
The ILO is the only tripartite organisation of the UN, and each of its 183 Member States is represented by two government delegates, and one employer and one worker delegate, with an independent vote.
The two standards will be the 189th Convention and the supplementing 201st Recommendation adopted by the Labour Organisation since its creation in 1919.
The Convention is an international treaty that is binding on Member States that ratify it, while the Recommendation provides more detailed guidance on how to apply the Convention.
The new ILO standards set out that domestic workers around the world who care for families and households, must have the same basic labour rights as those available to other workers: reasonable hours of work, weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours, a limit on in-kind payment, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, as well as respect for fundamental principles and rights at work including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.
Recent ILO estimates based on national surveys and/or censuses of 117 countries, place the number of domestic workers at around 53 million. However, experts say that due to the fact that this kind of work is often hidden and unregistered, the total number of domestic workers could be as high as 100 million.
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