Apparel factory owners on Tuesday announced closure of 55 factories in Ashulia industrial belt on the outskirts of the capital for an indefinite period amid work abstention by the workers at the garment units demanding a pay hike.
Workers of the readymade garment factories in the industrial belt have been demonstrating since December 11 demanding minimum wage of Tk 16,000, ignoring the repeated call of the government to join work.
Leaders of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association at a briefing on Tuesday said that the owners closed the factories under Section 13(1) of the Bangladesh Labour Act.
They said that there was national and international conspiracy behind the workers’ movement and claimed that the factory owners were forced to close their units in face of ‘illegal’ work abstention by the workers.
Labour rights groups, however, said that the imposition of Section 13(1) of the labour law would not bring any positive result; rather it would create a confusing situation in the sector.
The section of the law empowers an employer, in the event of an illegal strike by any section or department of any establishment, to close either wholly or partly such section or department.
As per the law, workers participating in such illegal strike may not be paid any wages for such closure.
‘Factory owners have been forced to announce closure of 55 factories situated in Ashulia area under section 13(1) of labour law as workers continued their work abstention for the ninth consecutive day on Tuesday,’ Siddiqur Rahman, president of the BGMEA, said at the press conference at the headquarters of the trade body in the city.
According to the law, workers would not get any wage for the period, he said.
The BGMEA president said that the ongoing work abstention was completely illegal as the workers did not placed any chartered of demands to either the government or any factory as per the law.
He said more factories might be closed under section 13(1) if workers observe such illegal strikes in the units.
He alleged that outsiders provoked workers and they had been staging work abstention demanding formation of a new wage board and wage hike.
On Monday, it was decided at a meeting chaired by the commerce minister that factories would open and workers would join but they (workers) did not join, the BGMEA president said.
Trade union leaders were also present in the meeting.
Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies assistant executive director Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmed told New Age that the closure of factories under section 13(1) would create a confusing situation in the sector.
He urged the government and factory owners to resolve the crisis through discussion.
‘I do not support closure of factory under section 13(1) of labour law and at the same time the demonstration of workers should be constructive,’ Nazma Akter, president of Combined Garment Workers Federation, told New Age.
She said the government and owners should resolve the crisis through accepting lawful demands of the workers and the workers should place their demands following the appropriate procedures.
Hours before the BGMEA announcement, state minister for labour and employment Mujibul Haque termed the work abstention by the garment workers at Ashulia illegal and urged them to join work immediately.
At a press briefing at the labour ministry, he said that the demonstration of the Ashulia garment workers would be treated as misconduct and unfair labour practice as per the section 196 under the labour act.
If the workers do not join work, factory owners would be forced to close their factories under Section 13(1) of the Bangladesh Labour Act, the junior minister said.
Ruling out the possibility of formation a fresh wage board for apparel workers, Mujibul said that the board would be formed after five years as per the law.
He alleged that some vested groups were conspiring to unstable the apparel industry by using the workers.
There might be an international conspiracy to ruin the readymade garment sector in Bangladesh, Mujibul added.
On Tuesday, workers from over 50 factories in the Ashulia industrial belt took to the streets and clashed with police in several spots.
Witnesses and police said the workers of the factories went to their workplaces and started work abstention.
The agitated workers then took to the busy Dhaka-Tangail highway at different points at Zirabo to Simultala, disrupting traffic movement.
Latter, the police charged baton and fired tear gas shells to disperse the agitated workers.
The workers said that they would continue their movement until their demand was met.
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