Apparel units at Ashulia, which were closed in the face of labour unrests over pay hike in the past week, were reopened Monday amidst tight security, tension and fear among workers as at least 1,600 of them were sacked and over 1,500 were prosecuted in the past five days.
Productions at all the 85 factories, which remained closed since December 21, resumed in the morning and continued without any interruptions, but workers’ attendances were low, factory officials said.
They said that many workers went their country home after the factories were shut for an indefinite period on December 21.
Workers, however, said that many of their colleagues did not rejoin work fearing arrest as factory managements and police filed several cases against over 1,500 workers, although 150 were named.
The cases were filed after the labour unrests erupted at the Ashulia industrial belt on the outskirts of the capital on December 11 for raising minimum wage to Tk 16,000 from Tk 5,300.
‘Many workers are in hiding to avoid harassment police hassle and arrest as police and ruling Awami League activists are raiding houses of workers every night,’ said Garment Workers Trade Union Centre general secretary KM Ruhul Amin.
He alleged that police were ‘doing businesses’ out of arrests.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the apex organisation of the apparel factory owners, shut 85 apparel units for an indefinite period on December 21 following the labour unrests.
‘About 1,600 workers have been sacked and 10 cases have been filed following labour unrests till today Monday],’ said Dhaka industrial police director Mostafizur Rahman.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association president Siddiqur Rahman on Sunday following an instruction by the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, announced the reopening of the export-oriented apparel units at Ashulia.
Industrial police said that following the closures of the factories, the management of the factories including Windy Apparels Ltd, Fountain Garment Manufacturing Ltd, Ha-meem Group, Sharmin Group, Setara Group and The Rose Dresses Ltd terminated 1,600 workers on allegation of inciting workers to go for the protests.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association vice-president Mahmud Hasan Khan Babu, however, claimed that the workers were not sacked.
‘We have started the process of terminating workers who created the troubles,’ he said.
The lists of terminated workers were seen hanging from the factory gates and a huge number of law enforcement personnel were deployed at the industrial belt.
The superintendent of police in Dhaka, Shah Mizan Shafiur Rahman, said that eight factory authorities filed cases against several hundred named and unnamed workers on charge of vandalism, looting, threatening other workers and assaulting factory officials while police filed two cases under the Special Powers Act and the Information and Communication Technology Act.
‘At least 22 people were arrested in the cases,’ he said.
Mizan said that more than 1,000 industrial police personnel and 900 cops from police station, Rapid Action Battalion and 15 platoons of Border Guard Bangladesh were deployed at the industrial belt to avoid any untoward incident.
‘Production is going smoothly,’ he said during a visit to the area in the morning.
Labour leaders demanded release of all detained workers and labour rights activists and asked the government and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association to sit with the workers to settle the issue.
‘The labour unrests will not be solved permanently without the pay hike,’ said labour leader KM Mintu.
Tension was still prevailing at the industrial belt but no untoward incident took place on Monday.
Workers said that they were facing severe difficulties in maintaining their families with their wages as the prices of all essentials and house rent had increased.
‘Wage hike is a must for our survival,’ said Nupur Khatun, a 30-year old worker, who have three children and a rickshaw puller husband.
‘There are scopes of open discussion about workers’ demand but unrest is not acceptable,’ said Mahmud Hasan.
Bangladesh Garment Sramik Sanghati, a labour organisation, also demanded withdrawal of cases against labour leaders and unconditional release of the arrested workers. They formed a human chain and staged demonstration in front of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association headquarters in Dhaka.
Its president Taslima Akter, at the human chain, also demanded formation of the wage board for the apparel workers shortly and to set the minimum wage at Tk 16,000.
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