Police fire rubber bullets and teargas at Savar workers

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At least 50 people were injured as garment workers clashed with police in Savar on the main road between Dhaka and Aricha in Bangladesh on Monday.

Police said when the workers of DNS garment saw closure notices hanging on the factory gate located in the Rajphulbaria area they staged a demonstration in front of the factory demanding wages they are owed.

Later, workers took to the street and put up a barricade on the road, to block traffic for an hour from 11am.

Police fired rubber bullet and tear gas shells to disperse them. The workers responded by throwing bricks.

Policed then chased workers and injured 50 of them.

A female garment worker was admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital with injuries.

The incident was followed by at least 30 workers being injured in a clash with the police on Tuesday, when the workers of a sweater factory blocked the Dhaka-Aricha highway in Savar for about an hour, pressing for their arrears and reopening of the factory.

Witnesses and the industrial police said that several hundred workers of DNS Sweater Ltd at Rajfulbaria blocked the busy Dhaka-Aricha highway in the morning demanding arrears and reopening of the factory.

The workers also threw bricks and stones at the police. At least 30 workers were injured in the clash..

Workers said the management of the factory have kept it closed since December 15 without assigning any reason and notifying the workers.

They also said that they were yet to get their wages for November.

The workers demanded wages for November and December and immediate reopening of the factory.

Ashulia industrial police deputy director Ali Ahmed Khan said the management of the factory assured the industrial police of paying the wages to the workers on January 10, 2013.

Meanwhile, Jasim Khan from the Department of Labour rejected over 450 applications for Trade Union registration during last three years.

The garment owners subsequently sacked over 250 worker leaders who submitted those applications to DoL.

The DOL has only 149 registered union work places for the garments sector despite the workers’ desire to join trade unions in over 5000 factories across the country.

Of the 149 factories that accept trade unionists, 125 are in Dhaka and remaining 24 are in Chittagong.

Most of the registered trade unions were registered before the 1990’s.

Nazma Akther, President of Sammilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF) said: ‘The DoL are not giving us new registration on the ground of many unmet conditions that are difficult to meet and are not legally required.

‘We from our federation have made applications for about 15 new trade unionists during the last two and half years but all of these applications have been rejected.’

She said the trade union leaders are refraining from submitting new applications for unions because many of the factory leaders who submit applications lost their job during the period.

Babul Akther, General Secretary, Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers Association (BGIWA) said that over 250 workers who had submitted applications to get their trade union registered with the DoL have lost their job during last two and half years.

An investigation found documents on workers who had submitted union applications at the DoL lost their jobs from the factories concerned.

Shahidul Islam of Bangladesh Nationalist Garments Sramik Dal alleged that Elie Fashion sacked Alamin and Jostsna Akther and threatened them with severe consequences if they talked to the media about their sacking.

Amirul Haq Amir President of National Garments Workers Federation (NGWF) said ‘We can not protect workers who file applications for unions. So we are not submitting any applications.’

When asked, Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) President Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin denied the allegation that they had stopped any workers joining trade unions, he also rejected the fact that many workers leaders have been sacked.

Over 250 pregnant female workers have been sacked from different garments factories during last three years, leading trade unionists alleged.

A few garment factories are paying maternity leave and related benefits but most garments factories are not complying with the guideline of the the Bangladeshi government’s minimum wage board.

Nazrul Islam Khan, Secretary General of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) said one of important issues for all working women is her right to maternity benefit.

But, in Bangladesh the majority of women workers are deprived of this right for various reasons such as the weakness of relevant rules/acts a lack of enforcement, the negative attitude of the employers, lack of awareness among women workers about this right, and lack of seriousness on the part of the government to implement and monitor the relevant laws at workplaces.

Besides, garments factories which operate on a subcontract basis do not pay the minumum wage to their employees.

The killing of a trade unionist is common in Bangladesh, the police itself filed around 85 cases against workers and trade union leaders during last three years for their alleged involvement in destructive activities and vandalism.

Currently 30 RMG trade union leaders including Garment Workers Unity Forum (GWUF) president Moshrefa Mishu are on bail.

The police filed cases against 18 thousand workers at Ashulia and another 5000 workers at Tejgaon in August and October 2010.

The crucial role in ending the strikes is played by some trade unions, who struck a deal with the government and employers.

The minimum wage was to be lifted to about $US43 a month, still well below the poverty line and just over half of what had been demanded originally.

The workers would not dare to launch any fresh agitation against the wholesale degradation of their grades at many of the compliant factories.

‘We are afraid of further repression and job loss if we launch agitation at this moment,’ Towhidur Rahman, President of Bangladesh Apparel Workers Federation (BAWF) said.

Babul Akther, General Secretary, Bangladesh Garments & Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF) alleged that the repression of garments workers has turned wore than at any point of the history of the sector.

Currently a clothing worker’s minimum average wage per hour in Bangladesh is just 21 US cents.

Many workers, who have received no rise since 2006, simply cannot make ends meet with their present pay.