The majority of the 35 Bangladeshi unionists and garment workers arrested since December last year have been released, and the remaining should be released shortly. This follows an international campaign led by IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union against the Bangladesh government’s crackdown on the labour movement.
A tripartite agreement was reached on 23 February between IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC), the Ministry of Labour and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, providing the release of the arrested trade unionists and garment workers. According to the agreement, those remaining will also be freed and cases against them disposed of.
IndustriALL Global Union General Secretary Valter Sanches welcomes the decision to release the jailed activists:
"We have seen an incredible show of global solidarity and this is an important victory for garment workers in Bangladesh, sending a strong message to the country's industry to enter into a constructive dialogue with the trade unions.
“The issue that sparked the crackdown on unions at the end of last year still remains. We will continue to support the fight for higher wages and will closely monitor the situation until all charges are dropped.”
UNI Global Union General secretary Philip Jennings says:
“Around the world, we have seen an effective global solidarity with protests in dozens of major cities across the globe. From Kathmandu to New York, people stood up to demand that Bangladesh respects human and trade union rights.
“We welcome the release of the imprisoned unionists and hope we can begin to turn the page on Bangladesh’s aggressive crackdown on labour. However, we must remain on guard – the message to Bangladesh is to respect labour rights.”
The agreement sets a precedent as it recognizes the IBC as a formal counterpart in negotiations.
“As a legitimate representative of the Bangladesh garment workers we have a platform. We will continue to fight for our members,” says Amirul Haque Amin, President of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council and the National Garment Workers Federation.
Union leaders and garment workers were arrested and union offices shut down in Dhaka's garment district, following demands for a higher minimum wage in December 2016. The Bangladeshi government and garment factory owners used the wage strike as a pretext to crackdown on the labour movement.
IndustriALL and UNI Global Union launched the campaign #EveryDayCounts, which received massive support from affiliates and other actors in the labour movement. Hundreds of photos from all over the world have been posted on social media, and unions in more than 20 countries have sent letters to the Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, calling for the release of the detained garment trade union leaders and worker activists, and that all charges are dropped.
On 15 and 16 February, there were protests and visits to Bangladeshi embassies in over 16 cities, including Berlin, Geneva, London, Brussels, The Hague, Washington D.C., New York, Ottawa, Kathmandu, and Seoul.
LabourStart's campaign to free the jailed activists amassed more than 10,000 signatures.