Tuba Group's 1,600 workers did not get three months' arrears and festival bonus even yesterday, pushing some to observe hunger strike for four days straight in a bid to drive their demands home.
As many as 60 workers on strike have fallen ill so far and 12 of them had to be hospitalised.
“As most of the workers are malnourished and anaemic, prolonged hunger strikes could permanently damage their kidneys,” said Dr Mojibul Haq Arzu, convener of Progressive Doctors Forum, who has been attending to the on-strike workers since Wednesday.
Meanwhile, State Minister for Labour and Employment Mujibul Haque Chunnu yesterday said Tuba Group owner Delwar Hossain had secured bail before the Eid holidays. Delwar, managing director of Tuba Group, has been behind bars since February 9 in a case filed in connection with the Tazreen Fashions fire at Ashulia that killed 112 in 2012. Tazrin Fashions is a concern of Tuba Group.
The announcement of the state minister comes amid allegations that Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) was inciting the workers to go on the hunger strike to force the government to release Delwar.
However, the BGMEA leaders denied the allegations.
“We informed the government of the Tuba Group issue much earlier. We are still trying to engage the government and we intend to visit the workers on the site after that to solve the problem as soon as possible,” said Abdus Salam Murshedy, former BGMEA president, at a press conference at the association's office in the capital yesterday.
Leaders of the apex body of garment makers also said they would ensure payments of the protesting workers by the end of the next week.
“We are currently negotiating to get a bank loan to pay the workers. We will pay them by the end of this [next] week,” said SM Mannan Kochi, acting president of the BGMEA.
Kochi also said both the BGMEA and Tuba Group management tried to collect funds from the bank to pay workers but failed, as the group's owner was in jail.
The management paid Tk 2.5 crore to workers of other units of the group as those had work orders, but could not pay the workers of five units -- Bugshan Garments Ltd, Tuba Fashions Ltd, Tuba Textile Mills, Tayeb Design Ltd and Mita Design Ltd -- due to "non-cooperation of the banks", Kochi said.
A sum of Tk 4.14 crore is required to pay the arrears and bonuses of the 1,600 workers, who have been on hunger strike since Monday.
The workers did not go to their village homes to celebrate Eid and rather chose to stage the hunger strike on the factory premises in Hossain Market area of North Badda, Dhaka.
The aggrieved workers had also been holding Laili Begum, mother-in-law of Delwar Hossain, on the 11th floor of the factory building since Friday.
The protest gained momentum after some leaders of left-leaning political parties expressed solidarity with the agitating workers. Some of those leaders were seen with the Tuba workers on the protest scene during the Eid holidays.
“Every day the workers are falling sick from the hunger strike. We want an immediate solution and payments,” said Sumi Akter, a sewing operator of the group.
She said the workers could not go to their villages for Eid as they were not paid.
“Both the BGMEA and the Tuba management assured us of paying at least one month's wages before the festival, but they did not do so,” Sumi said.
“I have not been able to properly feed my son in three months. I would rather die here protesting than see him starve at home,” said Swapna, 26, who was being given intravenous (IV) fluid to avert dehydration since yesterday morning.
At the press conference, Tipu Munshi, another former president of the BGMEA, said Tuba Group MD might get bail from the court as his lawyers were trying to this end.
“But, we will not wait for the bail of Delwar Hossain to pay the workers. We will pay the workers by the end of this [next] week as negotiations with the bank are going on for a packing credit,” Munshi said.
Munshi's assumption regarding Delwar's bail soon found some ground when the state minister for labour and employment said later in the day that the Tuba Group owner had already secured bail from the High Court before the Eid vacation.
“I hope the jail authorities will receive the bail order of the High Court by Sunday or Monday,” Mujibul Haque Chunnu told The Daily Star over the phone yesterday.
He also believes the arrear issue would be resolved as soon as Delwar is released.
The Daily Star called Delwar's lawyer AM Aminuddin several times but his mobile phone was found switched off.
Acting Attorney General Murad Reza said he was not aware of Delwar's bail order.
“If Delwar gets a bail, I will seek a stay order from the Appellate Division,” he said.