Rights and political activists yesterday demanded the full payment of all dues of the Tuba Group garment workers and cancellation of the bail of the group's Managing Director Delwar Hossain, saying the labourers could not be used as hostage to ensure his release from jail.
The demands came from a human chain of Sangkhuddho Nari Samaj (Aggrieved Women's Society), a platform of human and labour rights bodies, held in front of the capital's Jatiya Press Club. Representatives from at least 12 organisations participated in the programme.
The authorities of Tuba's five garment factories have not paid their 1,600 workers the salaries of the last three months plus the Eid-ul-Fitr bonus, saying that since Delwar was in jail, the banks were not giving them loans and thus they could not pay the workers.
Delwar, also owner of Tazreen Fashions, was sent to prison in February in the connection with the devastating fire at Tazreen in November 2012, which killed at least 112 workers.
The High Court granted him a two-month ad interim bail on July 24, but he was not released from jail since the bail order did not reach the prison authorities yet.
The agitating workers, however, said Tuba owners and some leaders of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) intentionally withheld the salaries and thus instigated workers' agitation and used it to obtain Delwar's bail.
Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), said the government must come forward to ensure payment of the salaries and bonus.
"If needed, the government should form a commission or create one under the High Court's instructions so that the workers get salaries and factories don't shut either," she said, adding that there were instances where such commissions compelled the managements to pay workers.
Anam referred to different newspaper reports which quoted the Export Promotion Bureau as saying that Tuba Group has exported Tk 39 crore worth of garments between January and June. "So, the Tuba management does have the ability to pay workers," she told The Daily Star.
After days of non-violent protest since June, Tuba workers started an indefinite hunger strike in front of their factories at Badda on July 28, demanding their arrears of three months and Eid bonus, which add up to Tk 4.14 crore, according a report of the Bangla daily Prothom Alo.
On the back of this, the BGMEA promised on Sunday that it would pay the workers two months' arrears from its emergency fund. The association is supposed to pay on August 6, the Prothom Alo reported on Monday.
Criticising the BGMEA for promising to pay only two months' arrears, Shaheen Anam said, "If even one worker dies from this continuous hunger strike, can you imagine what would happen to the image of the country's ready made garment industry?"
Farida Akhter, executive director of Unnayan Bikolper Niti Nirdharani Gabeshona (Ubinig), labour leaders Shabnam Hafiz, Ayesha Islam and others also spoke at the programme.
Meanwhile, a platform of 30 garment workers' federations, staged an hours-long sit-in and token hunger strike at the same venue, expressing their solidarity with Tuba workers.
BNP's labour wing Jatiyatabadi Sramik Dal, Gonotantrik Bam Morcha, Nagarik Oikya Forum, and several left-leaning political parties also held separate programmes at the venue, supporting Tuba's workers.