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The News Line: Feature GARMENT WORKERS DENOUNCE WAGE STRUCTURE IN DHAKA AND CLASH WITH POLICE
Garment workers in Bangladesh are not prepared to die for fashion
GARMENT workers have flooded the streets of the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, this week, clashing with police and denouncing the new wages structure introduced on 1st December last year.

Bangladesh police on Tuesday 8th January fired rubber bullets and tear gas as thousands of striking workers in the South Asian country’s huge garment industry staged protests for a third day demanding wage hikes.

Police said more than 5,000 workers blocked a national highway at Hemayetpur, outside the capital Dhaka, and clashed with them for hours after they walked out of their factories.

‘At least 12 policemen were injured after they threw rocks at our officers. We fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters. Twelve factories were shut down,’ police official Sana Shaminur Rahman said. At least 50 protesters were injured in waves of clashes, which also spread to garment factory hubs in Dhaka, Ashulia and Uttara involving thousands more workers.

The protests are the first major test for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since winning a fourth term in 30th December elections marred by violence, thousands of arrests and allegations of vote rigging and intimidation.

When workers took to the streets at Mirpur’s Kalshi, Rokeya Sarani, and Pallabi areas and tried to block the roads for the third consecutive day on Tuesday morning a chase and counter-chase ensued with police trying to disperse the protesters. Garment workers also blocked Airport Road, in Uttara’s Abdullahpur area, for a third consecutive day.

Apparel workers from garment factories in Uttara gathered on the Dhaka-Mymensingh Highway at around 9am and invited fellow workers from other factories to join them.
The protesters then proceeded to block Airport Road around noon. Afterwards, police charged them in an attempt to clear the road.

Previously, the demonstrating garment workers blocked Airport Road, on Sunday and Monday, with Monday’s demonstration resulting in large amounts of traffic being gridlocked throughout the day, plus the torching of a bus and several vehicles.

Demonstrations and protests also took place in Gazipur and Savar on Monday, while clashes in Gazipur resulted in 14 workers being injured.  In Savar, at least 20 were hurt in clashes during demonstrations at Hemayetpur around 8.30am. The clashes ensued when police fired several tear gas canisters and baton-charged demonstrators to disperse them and prevent them from taking possession of a main road in the area. At least 10 to 12 policemen were also injured as the striking workers hurled bricks in response.

Meanwhile in Ashulia, hundreds of workers clashed with police when they were barred from blocking a road there at around 8am. In Dhaka city, around 200 garment workers blocked the Airport Road at around 11:45am and the same occurred in the Dakkhin Khan and Kalshi areas.

At least 20 people were injured as striking readymade garment workers clashed with law enforcers in Savar, on the outskirts area of Dhaka. The workers condemn the fact that the monthly wage in the seventh grade increased to 8,000 Taka (Tk) from Tk 5,300, (1Tk=approx 1p) but the salary of the workers in other grades did not increase at the same rate.

The new wage has been effective from 1st December, but the major disparity is in the third and fourth grades as their salaries were not raised like that of entry-level workers. In most of the grades, other than the seventh, only Tk 500 was raised in the new salary structure, whereas an entry-level 7th grade worker’s salary had increased by Tk 2,700 at one go.

The Bangladesh government claims that it raised the minimum monthly wage for the garment sector’s four million workers by 51 per cent to 8,000 taka (£80) from December. But senior workers say that their raise was less than this and unions, which warn that the strikes will spread, say the pay rise fails to compensate for price rises in recent years.

‘The wages were hiked after five years. But in the five years, the cost of living has increased more than the wage hike,’ Babul Akhter, head of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, said. Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest garment maker after China.

Bangladesh’s 4,500 textile and clothing factories exported more than US$30 billion (S$40 billion) worth of apparel last year, making clothing for retailers such as H&M, Walmart, Tesco, Carrefour and Aldi.

But despite the industry’s role in transforming the impoverished nation into a major manufacturing hub, garment workers are some of the lowest paid in the world. The industry also has a poor workplace safety record, with the collapse of a Rana Plaza garment factory complex killing more than 1,130 people in 2013 in one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.

• All 3G and 4G internet services were shut down and journalists were attacked during parliamentary elections in Bangladesh on 30th December. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the throttling of the internet services and the attacks on journalists and demands commitment from the winning Awami League (AL) party for the free flow of information and safety of journalists.

The ruling AL emerged a landslide winner in the general election for the third consecutive term in power amidst the opposition allegations of rigged polls. Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) ordered shutting down 3G and 4G internet services on 29th December and although the mobile internet was restored for a few hours in the evening of the polls day, it was later shut down again until further notice. The services were also cut off on 27th December for 10 hours.

Polling day saw at least 18 people dead and more than 200 injured in clashes, at least seven journalists were assaulted in Dhaka and Chattogram, while a number of journalists covering polls faced obstructions from activists of political parties and law enforcers. Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo of The Daily Star and Al Amin, a staff reporter of Chattogram-based online news portal Cvoice24.com, were attacked by the AL cadres while senior reporter of Bangla daily Manab Zamin Kafi Kamal was assaulted after casting his vote in Dhaka.

Award-winning photographer Shahidul Alam, who was released from prison last month, was also injured in a scuffle outside a polling centre. A reporter and a photographer from the Bengali tabloid Manabzamin were also assaulted while covering the elections in the capital Dhaka.

Another two photojournalists from the Manob Kantho daily were also injured when they were attacked by unknown assailants. Meanwhile, a private television station, Jamuna TV, claimed that it was taken off the air on the eve of the election by the cable operators without any explanation.

The Daily Star also reported that a number of its journalists were obstructed in different ways, including denial of entry to polling centres, by on-duty law enforcement agency members and party cadres in various polling stations despite possessing the legal press cards.

Earlier on December 24, two dozen masked men attacked a group of reporters who were covering elections campaigns with hockey sticks and batons. The assailants injured about 10 journalists mainly from Jugantor daily and Jamuna TV in a hotel in Nawabgonj, a city 40km away from the capital, Dhaka. They also smashed hotel windows and vandalised more than a dozen vehicles belonging to media outlets or privately owned.

The IFJ said: ‘The IFJ condemns the throttling of the internet, all the attacks against journalists and the violations of press freedom before and during the Election Day in Bangladesh. ‘Free flow of information is essential in all democratic systems and internet shut downs hamper not only citizens’ rights to information but also impacts access to the important services for the journalists and the public.

‘The IFJ urges the Bangladeshi authorities to ensure the free flow of information and to duly investigate all the attacks on media and bring those responsible to justice.’
 
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