A group of civil society organisations yesterday urged the government and garment factory owners' association to resolve the standoff over unpaid wages of Tuba Group workers without any further delay.
Otherwise, the hunger strike enforced by the workers for two weeks now could snowball into a nationwide movement, they said.
“If a countrywide movement is formed, things might go out of control,” said Farida Akhter, executive director of Policy Research for Development Alternative or UBINIG, a nongovernmental organisation.
The rights activist spoke at a press briefing at Dhaka Reporters Unity in the city.
Songkhubddho Nari Samaj, a platform of more than a dozen civil society organisations and rights groups, organised the programme to express solidarity with the workers of Tuba Group. Some of the workers of the garment maker have been on hunger strike since July 28 to realise wages of the past three months, overtime dues and Eid bonuses.
They alleged that the wages and other benefits were unpaid purposefully to compel the workers into the protest movement to free Tuba Group Managing Director Delwar Hossain from jail.
Hossain had been detained until Tuesday in a case linked with a 2012 fire that killed 112 people at Tazreen Fashions, a garment unit of Tuba Group in Ashulia. “Delwar Hossain was freed through the protest of the workers,” said Kamrun Nahar, a member of Naripokkho, a women's activist organisation.
She said police did not allow anybody, even doctors and nurses, to contact the striking workers at the Tuba Group factory in Badda. “Who will take the responsibility if any worker dies because of starvation?” she questioned.
The platform, which brought out a procession in the capital on Monday to urge the government and BGMEA to end the impasse, strongly denounced the release of Hossain on bail and demanded cancellation of the bail immediately.
The platform also said the government, if necessary, should set up a commission with control over the assets of Tuba Group. The commission, with the help of other directors of the company, can clear the unpaid wages, continue the business and bring the workers back to the factories again, it said. Khushi Kabir, coordinator of Nijera Kori, another NGO, said the image of the garment sector has been dented because of Hossain, but the BGMEA, the garment makers' association, is trying to protect him.
Dina Siddiqi, who teaches anthropology at BRAC University, said not paying salaries for three months is a gross violation of human rights. “Not getting paid for three months is just outrageous.”
She said the workers had been on almost starvation in the three months before they launched the protest.
“Before Eid they could not leave Dhaka as they did not have money, and also because of pressure from their homeowners and shop-owners to whom they owe money.”
The academician said not clearing wages is not a new phenomenon in the garment sector, and the owners are always being spared.
The workers have launched a peaceful protest, but they have been attacked purposefully so that they become divided, said Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation that works to promote human rights and good governance. “Their demands should be met immediately. The workers are being pushed to confrontation instead of meeting their demands,” she said.
ActionAid, Karmojibi Nari, Awaj Foundation, Nari Maitree, Shomonnoy, BRAC University and Shrom Bikash Kendra are also part of the platform.