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Attempts to form unions met with violence in Bangladesh

31 May, 2017Workers at Azim Group’s Orchid and Savar factories in Chittagong have been subjected to violence, threats and coercion for wanting to form a union in the workplace.

On 27 May, local goons threatened and physically attacked workers and leaders of a proposed union in front of the factory gate. The violence continued the following day as workers and union leaders were again beaten and warned that, if they continue to organize unions, they will be killed. The local police force present watched as union leaders were assaulted.

The attackers even went to union leaders’ homes and threatened family members. One union leader's wife was threatened at knifepoint and another leaders’ brother was kidnapped and later released.

Many union leaders have taken refuge in the union office, out of fear of further attacks exposing their families to violence.

IndustriALL affiliate, the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF) has been trying to form a union since early 2016 at the Orchid and Savar factories, located in the same building.

In March this year, workers filed a fourth registration application for Savar Sweater Ltd. Sromik Union with the membership of 2,200 workers, and in April for Orchid Sweater Ltd. Workers Union with 1,760 membership. The application for the Savar factory union was again rejected by the labour administration on flimsy grounds and a decision on the Orchid factory union is expected soon.

The Azim Group has a long history of interference with workers’ rights to form union. In 2014, a similar pattern of violence took place at the Global Garment/Trousers factory.

Valter Sanches, IndustriALL General secretary, calls for swift action to end the violence:

“Azim Group’s interference with workers’ attempts to exercise their freedom of association is a clear breach of national labour legislation as well as international core labour standards.

“We demand that the physical attacks must end immediately and that the Azim group engage in genuine negotiations with BIGUF.”

Although Bangladesh has ratified the International Labour Organizations’ Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, and Convention 98 on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining, the government and factory owners have recently been cracking down on the labour movement.