A massive wave of protesting garment workers demanding an increase of minimum wages swept across Bangladesh’s garment industry in December 2018 and January 2019. State repression following the protest has resulted in arrests and mass terminations of workers in more than a hundred garment manufacturing units.
According to an estimate provided by the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC), the national coordinating body of affiliates of IndustriALL Global Union, over 11,600 workers have lost their jobs.
Many of them, particularly senior grade workers, were forcefully made to resign, for the companies to avoid paying higher wages and social security benefits. The terminations came in the wake of marginal wage increases announced after protests by garment workers.
Employers and the police have filed cases against over 3,000 unidentified workers and about 70 workers have been arrested, some of them released on bail. Earlier this year, one worker was killed and many injured in the protests.
Still weeks after the protests, many workers fear being arrested on false charges. Large numbers of workers have faced threats of physical violence by hired goons if they continue to demand higher wages.
It is difficult for terminated workers to find new employment, as the biometric data linked to their employment records are used to identify workers and deny employment, based on their involvement in trade union activities and protests.
Valter Sanches, IndustriALL Global Union general secretary said:
“We are shocked to see the false cases, arrests, terminations and violent threats against workers unleashed by the employers and the state machinery.
“Employers and brands need to end the climate of fear among workers and establish a work environment which respects workers’ right to freedom of association and effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.”
Salauddin Shapon, secretary general of IBC, said:
“The arrests targeted union leaders and office bearers with the tacit support of employers in order to cripple union activities. The harassment needs to stop immediately. Employers and the government should withdraw all false cases against workers, and all unjust terminations and suspensions should be withdrawn. Employers should pay wages as announced by the government.”
Terminated and suspended workers were working for companies producing for global brands including H&M, Inditex, KiK, Voegele, LIDL, Mango, Next, Matalan, VF, Takko, ALDI, Marks & Spencer, Puma, Wal Mart, JC Penny, Tesco, Stanley Stella and many others.
*This article was corrected on 13 February to remove the name of Tchibo and Esprit from the list of brands sourcing from affected factories.
Current gross minimum wages in Bangladesh