A few recent reports on workers unrest in Bangladesh in some national and international media outlets have come to the attention of BGMEA. We found some of the reports to be biased and misrepresented. We feel the urge to share this statement clarifying the facts and BGMEA’s position.
It’s been almost three weeks since the labor movement erupted around minimum wage issues. The owners’ representative in the minimum wage board submitted the proposal on October 22, and the protest started on October 23 rejecting the proposal. A fraction of the so-called ‘workers’ in a particular industrial area went for unnoticed strike on October 23, and since then the situation aggravated.
This is to be noted that the minimum wage review process is based on consultation and consensus. Therefore, any proposition by the owners in the board may not be agreed by the workers and can be further consulted. Such violent protest corrupts the environment for negotiation.
For the past three weeks, we have been going through illegitimate strike, violence and vandalism in the factories and in public place. Meanwhile, the minimum wage board declared the minimum wages for garment workers on November 7. The wage for an entry level worker is raised by 56.25%, i.e. from BDT 8000 to BDT 12,500. Despite all the challenges and difficulties in local and global economy, the owners accepted this proposal for the wellbeing of the workers. Yet, the violence did not end, rather they destroyed a factory named ‘Tusuka’ on November 9.
BGMEA received CCTV footage from different factories where vandalism took place in recent weeks. The videos reveal horrific pictures of factories being burnt, equipment’s damaged, raw materials and finished goods looted and burnt, and employees being beaten.
One of the factories that suffered the most is named A.B.M. Fashions Limited. The factory is in operation for the past 30 years with a reputation. The factory is a glaring example as a responsible employer that never failed its workers on time, undertakes a number of corporate best practices and engages in many CSR activities. The factory runs a fair-priced shop for the workers, which is highly appreciated by its workers. This factory was victimized having no link to whatever is happening in the wage board negotiation, nor was it involved in any activities that may erupt such violence against it. The video footage shows that a violent procession broke the main entrance, entered into the factory, looted and destroyed materials and equipment including laptops, torched the factory, cars, ambulances and truck loaded with finished goods within its premises, and also brutally beaten the employees. What’s more shocking to notice is that the protestors destroyed the fair price shop which used to supply the workers with essential commodities including food items at subsidized prices. Event they went up to the level of cutting the hose pipes of the factory’s fire extinguishing system, which was installed for the safety of the workers. The unruly mob did not show any mercy to the doctor and a pregnant nurse, who used to serve the workers at the factory’s health center and beat them cruelly. One of the four workers who died in these weeks of violent activities was a worker at this factory. He hid himself in a safe place inside the factory compound to protect himself from the attack, yet the smoke caused by the arson suffocated him to death. These all happened in broad daylight and are captured in video footage. And when we see headlines and stories, we are deceived.
Here, I would like to clarify a point assuming due responsibility that the law enforcement agencies including police never involve in assault activities like use of gun, etc. since it’s a labor-intensive industry and nobody wants casualties. They would always take a position outside the factory gate and urge the protestors to calm down and leave the factory peacefully. We have seen the miscreants created riotous situation, they blocked major roads and highways, destroyed private properties like medical clinic, gas station, showroom, etc. Such blockades create public inconvenience including ambulances carrying pregnant women and elderly patients stuck and patients dying, the police take actions to clear the roads. Two of four protestors who died in this series of escalation, were injured in a confrontation with police, while police went in action to contain them from damaging private and public properties. These two among others were vandalizing a medical clinic as we are reported. One of them died on the spot, and the other one was admitted to hospital and then passed away. None of them were hit, injured or died in any factory premises. Another worker, who died in other event on the street, were injured by a piece of brick thrown by a protestor, which was aimed at police. There is no instance that police shot fire or take harsh steps to save any factory, except for urging them to calm down.
Let me also mention that the unrest happened in less than 5% of the factories that we have in our industry. It happened in a few industrial areas and a few factories were vandalized. Therefore, the protest can neither be called as a ‘mass’ protest, nor it was a done by a representative part of the workers. Today, on 15 November, all factories resumed their operation and workers peacefully attended and worked. It happened because the general workers were not involved in violence, and they knew what was going on. We would like to thank the government, especially the law enforcement agencies and concerned departments, the labor federations and entrepreneurs who worked day and night and supported us to restore peace and order.
We, the industry, never supports any violence or loss of lives. BGMEA stood by the family members of the deceased ones with financial help. While the official procedure of wage negotiation was in progress and within its due time, while all the parties were cordial in the negotiation and were more empathetic toward workers, while the industry accepted the new wage and takes full responsibility for its implementation, the question is whose interest did such atrocious activities serve! In fact, the industry lost three crucial weeks, more than hundred million dollars worth of export being postponed, counting regular bills, and most of all it questioned our stability as an industry and as a nation. If the industry loses order, if the growth curve falls, who will be benefitted – that remains a big question. Certainly, an entrepreneur, who invest by availing bank loans and assuming real-time liabilities to run factories, would not certainly want to destabilize its workers or the buyers. Whereas, in the past decade we raised the minimum wages by 316%; whereas, in the past decade we invested millions of dollars to ensure world class safety and comfort for our workers, and investing in cleaner and greener manufacturing technologies, this testifies our commitment to this industry. For the entrepreneurs arson and destruction are not an option in any circumstances.
The irony is some media narratives appears to be more empathetic to the workers than we are toward our workers. A misrepresentation of facts is indeed harming them through the maligned propaganda. We do also observe that the reports of the crimes and anarchies appear in some of the media, especially social media reports are supported by some quarters, which silently provokes such heinous activities. We urge everyone to support the workers and us with true facts and unbiased opinions.