POLICE high-handedness in quelling labour unrest came to the fore once again on Monday as the police fired into apparel workers and charged at them with truncheons at Tongi in Gazipur. At least 20 of the workers, on demonstration seeking that Eid holidays should be for a week to 10 days instead of three days, were injured. The government earlier instructed factory owners that the holidays would only be for three days and the workers would not be allowed to go to outlying areas in efforts to contain the Covid infection. The situation has, however, not been so as many workers have left for their homes in outlying areas for the past few days, huddled in vehicles that they could avail of in the absence of public transports. While the government’s decision not to allow workers to leave Dhaka amidst the recent surge in Covid infection is logical, the worker rush towards their village homes is understandable too. In such a situation, the demand for an extension to the holiday is not unfounded.
When many factories have already extended the holidays, the police coming to fire into demonstrating workers is unacceptable. When the government declared the three-day holiday on April 29, it also ordered all apparel factories to pay workers their wages and festival allowances by May 10 which many of the factories failed to do. Around 75 per cent of the factories are reported to have paid, keeping to the Industrial Police, wages and festival allowances to workers till Monday although the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association claims that over 90 per cent of factories have paid wages and festival allowances to workers in time. Apparel workers appear to have been one of the most neglected groups since Covid-19 broke out here in March 2020. The workers have repeatedly been pushed into difficulty by way of ill-managed, if not whimsical, closure and reopening of factories and public transports. Moreover, thousands have also been laid off in the past year despite the government’s special stimulus package for the industry and strict warning against retrenchment. On top of all such violation of the labour law comes the police high-handedness.
The government must, therefore, consider initiating a judicial investigation of the conduct of the law enforcement agency. In so doing, the government must also investigate the allegations of worker rights violation that include the non-payment of wages and festival allowances. The government must compensate the injured workers. The law enforcement agencies must also comply with the relevant laws while dealing with labour unrest to dispel widespread allegations that the agencies act to protect the corporate interest at the expense of worker rights.
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