RMG workers deserve pay hike, FBCCI boss
The president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers and Commerce Industry (FBCCI) yesterday hinted that garment workers deserve a pay hike against the backdrop of rising inflation and house rents.
“House rents increased three times in Ashulia; non-food inflation marked a rise. So I have decided to hike salary for my workers from June instead of November,” said Azad, also the owner of Ha-Meem Group, a leading player in the sector.
But Azad came under fire from other garment makers due to his decision of increasing salary of his workers.
“It was my personal decision,” he defended himself.
Azad spoke at a hurriedly-called press conference by Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) in Dhaka.
The garment makers met as thousands of workers continued violence for the fourth day in the industrial belt of Ashulia yesterday, demanding a pay hike in a series of street protests that halted production in around 300 factories.
Azad also said, only the workers are not responsible for the unrest in the sector, some other groups are also playing behind the scene.
He said workers and owners should work together to end the crisis.
The protests will spread across the country if the government and industry leaders fail to control the situation, he added.
Turning down the workers’ demand for raising their salary, BGMEA President Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin said food inflation declined to 7.4 percent recently from 11.91 percent in December. “So there is no logical reason for a pay hike,” he said.
Non-food inflation is high and so the industrialists will request the local people not to increase house rents too much, said Mohiuddin.
He also said the industry is facing problems, as the cost of doing business increased by 10 percent compared to that in the last fiscal year.
“This is due to high interest rate on bank loans, and gas and power crises,” he added.
Worker unrest stops production in 300 Ashulia factories for fourth day
Garment owners have threatened to shut down their factories for an indefinite period from Sunday if workers continued their violent protests, suspending production in the readymade garment belt at Ashulia.
“We’ll close all our units first at Ashulia and gradually across the country if the violence continues,” Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said at a press briefing yesterday.
He urged the government to take action against the workers who vandalised factories and blocked the roads in the industrial zone for the fourth straight day yesterday.
“A national and international evil power wants to destroy the industry and the government and exporters know who instigated the general workers to do vandalism,” Mohiuddin told the briefing at the BGMEA office in the capital.
He said most government agencies knew how the demonstration took place and that they had footage of the vandalism.
It all began on Monday when about 4,500 workers of Artistic Design Ltd, a packaging factory of Ha-Meem Group owned by FBCCI President AK Azad, took to the streets demanding a raise in their wages.
Yesterday, they staged violent protests in the presence of State Minister for Home Shamsul Haque Tuku, local lawmaker Talukder Md Towhid Jung (Murad) and some top police officials, who went to Ashulia on the outskirts of the capital to convince the workers to return to work.
Their efforts went in vain as the workers ransacked more than 150 vehicles and vandalised 30 factories and put barricades suspending traffic on Dhaka-Tangail highway for eight hours and on Nabinagar-Kalaiakoir road for about four hours since 8:00am.
The agitating workers clashed sporadically with law enforcers, leaving more than 100 people, including 12 policemen, injured, said Abdus Salam, director general of Industrial Police.
They set several vehicles on fire, including a microbus of Maasranga Television, a motorbike of a policeman, and also furniture of a factory.
Police fired several hundred rubber bullets and teargas canisters in addition to baton-charging to disperse the clashing workers, who retaliated with brickbats and also beat up policemen with bamboo sticks, witnesses said.
Owners of around 300 factories closed their units although a few factories reopened for a while in the morning.
The industrial police chief told The Daily Star around 4,000 forces from Industrial Police, Savar District Police, Armed Police Battalion and Rapid Action Battalion were deployed to calm the situation.
According to him, police fired around 200 rubber bullets and teargas.
During the clashes from Monday to Wednesday, around 300 people were injured, some 200 vehicles ransacked and about 100 factories vandalised, police and witnesses said.
Yesterday’s demonstration began around 8:00am.
As the day wore on, thousands of workers joined the agitating groups, said Fayezul Kabir, deputy director of Industrial Police.
The demonstrators set fire to tyres and furniture on the road and chanted slogans, demanding a pay hike.
At present, a garment worker gets between Tk 3,000 and 5,500 a month. The agitating workers demand a raise between Tk 1,500 and 2,000.
“My salary is Tk 4,400 and I got Tk 6,200 last month, including my overtime pay,” said Rashidul Islam, a sewing operator of Sharmin Group.
“My minimum monthly expenditure is Tk 10,000,” he said, adding: “I am facing severe difficulties to run my family with the income.”
Like Rashidul, a number of other workers spoke of their hardship in maintaining their families at a time when house rent and prices of essentials are skyrocketing.
Tuku along with lawmaker Murad Jung went to Ha-Meem Group premises around 7:30am yesterday, where he held a meeting with the authorities and labour leaders.
After the meeting, the minister asked the agitating workers to return to work. He also requested the workers to calm down, assuring them that the prime minister herself was looking into the matter.
Several resolutions were agreed on in the meeting mediated by Tuku.
Contacted, Brig Gen (retd) Mohammad Ali Mondal, director of the project at Ashulia of Ha-Meem Group, told The Daily Star that the workers would get an increment from next month.
The owners will also pay for the treatment of the injured workers and that the workers will get the full month’s salary although production remained suspended for four days, he added.
Also, the workers were promised that the government would see to it that their house rents at Ashulia do not go up further.
Lawmaker Towhid Jung of Dhaka-19 (Savar) will oversee the matter, Mohammad Ali added.
It was time for heated exchanges as raising wages of readymade garment workers was proposed at a meeting of RMG factory owners on Thursday night in a bid to contain the ongoing workers’ unrest at Ashulia in Savar.
The Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers Association (BGMEA) and the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers Association (BKMEA) leaders organised the emergency meeting as garment workers continued with their violent protests for the fourth straight day on Thursday demanding hike in salaries.
The meeting turned chaotic when FBCCI President AK Azad, owner of Ha-Meem Group, which first saw the workers’ unrest on Monday, proposed increasing wages.
The meeting, however, ended deciding that all factories in Ashulia would be shut down if the ongoing unrest was not contained by Sunday.
In his speech to justify the salary raise, Azad said, “I think the demand of revising wages upwards is logical when house rent goes up thrice a year.”
Other factory owners attending the meeting rejected the proposal outright, shouting, “You can raise it if you think so, but it cannot come in the declaration.”
Workers have been agitating demanding a raise of Tk 2,000 in their current minimum salary of Tk 3,000.
Despite making the proposal, Azad also believes that raising salary would not help the situation much.
“The State Minister for Home had visited Ashulia following the Prime Minister’s order last night. A discussion had taken place between the government representatives and the workers’ leaders. If the situation does not improve even after that, the responsibility is not ours,” Azad added.
“I have thrown the ball in their (the government) and the workers’ court,” he added.
BGMEA President Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin said, “Usually salary increases every year and happens anytime in 12 months. He (Azad) said that from his own perspective. It is not applicable for other factories.”
“The salary has been increased only one-and-a-half years back. Situation has not changed so much that it can warrant a hike in workers’ salary,” he added.
Mohiuddin, however, added that efforts were on to contain frequent rise in house rent. He also demanded that those involved in the ongoing unrest should be identified from ‘video footages’ of the violence and punished.
He regretted that no action had been taken against those involved in causing workers unrests since 2006.