Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed yesterday instructed the owners of the 19 garment factories that have allegedly fired their trade union leaders to rectify the situation by next month.
The move comes after the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations brought the matter to the labour and employment ministry's attention.
Subsequently, the ministry conducted an investigation and found some of the factories to be guilty. Ahmed summoned the owners/representatives of the accused factories to his office yesterday to defend their positions.
He instructed the factory owners to rectify the situation by March 30, as the government will have to submit a progress report on the action plan laid out by the Obama administration to win back Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) status by April 15.
“Provided there are no political issues, we will get back the GSP status if we can fulfil four of the 16 action items,” the commerce minister said, adding that re-employment of the terminated workers and launch of trade unions in the 19 factories is one of the four conditions that must be fulfilled.
“You must look after the workers. You should not fire them for petty offences,” he told the factory owners at the hearing, also attended by members of the garment sectors' trade bodies.
The Sreepur-based Weltex Limited, one of the 19 accused garment factories, refuted that two labour leaders were fired from the factory forcibly, adding that a trade union is already functioning.
The labour and employment ministry investigation teams also found that the additional complaint against the factory of firing 16 workers was baseless.
Masco Industries, a Tongi-based factory, also defended its stance, adding that the factory management has agreed to a second trade union.
The Rampura-based Sadia Garments said the workers were terminated under the country's labour law after paying their dues, while Samia Garments Ltd categorically refuted allegations that 10 workers were fired in November for their involvement in trade unionism.
Fashion Gears Limited said they laid-off a number of workers after they beat up some members of the management. The terminated workers were given their dues in full.
Radical Design, a Narayanganj-based garment factory, has apparently terminated the contracts of a total of 35 workers for their involvement in trade unionism. The factory's representative said the workers were terminated according to the labour laws, adding that a trade union is present in the factory.Meanwhile, at one stage of the meeting, one of the members of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association passed on a note to the minister which said that some individuals and NGOs have been working against the garment sector in return for monetary favours from the Solidarity Centre, an American rights group.
The commerce minister handed over the note to BGMEA President Atiqul Islam, asking him to make public of the names of the individuals and organisations.
Meanwhile, Islam said some problems may exist in a sector that employs 4.4 million workers.
“If there is any kind of problem, the workers can also lodge complaints to the BGMEA arbitration cell to settle the disputes,” he added.