More than 1,600 workers from a number of garment factories in Ashulia have been sacked over the past week for their alleged involvement in demonstrations over pay, the police said yesterday.
“The number is expected to rise,” said Md Mostafizur Rahman, director of the Industrial Police-1, which tallied the numbers of sacked workers.
But the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation put the number of sacked workers at 3,500 and said dozens of protest organisers have been forced into hiding.
Even if the protests seem to have calmed down, the sacking of workers continues at garment factories in the manufacturing hub.
For instance, Shed Fashion Ltd yesterday terminated 226 workers for their alleged involvement in the unrest. Rose Garments Ltd terminated 232 workers for the same allegation.
The companies posted the lists of the terminated workers with their photographs at the gates of their respective units.
Wishing not to be named, a security guard at Shed Fashion Ltd said some workers went back from the factory gate as their names were on the list.
The factory owners have filed five cases against the unruly workers, Nur Nabi, assistant superintendent of industrial police, told AFP.
Babul Akhter, head of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, accused the authorities of using a controversial military-era law to shut down the protests.
“They used (the) Special Powers Act to detain union leaders and workers. Up to 3,500 workers have been sacked and 50 leaders have gone into hiding,” he told AFP.
But the international news agency reported quoting Nabi that only those involved in violent protest had been arrested.
ATM Tariq, a director of DK Group, said more than 95 percent of the workers of his factory have joined work and they are working in a peaceful mood.
Some 30 workers who were directly involved in the worker unrest were suspended, he added.
The problem began when leaders of the Garment Sramik Front, a union, demanded a minimum wage of Tk 16,000 a month from existing 5,300 at a regional conference of the union on November 25.
Leaflets demanding the hike were also distributed in Ashulia, a hub of more than 350 of the most compliant garment factories in the country.
Initially, the unrest was confined to a few units but then it spread as workers of other garment factories went on strike as well.
As the situation snowballed into unrest, 60 factory owners suspended operations on December 11.
However, all of the units resumed their operations on Monday following a directive from the prime minister.
Owners of a number of factories yesterday said about 90 percent of their workers have re-joined.
Meanwhile, the core crisis management committee in the garment sector yesterday decided to take stern legal action against the instigators of the unrest.
The decision was taken at the committee's emergency meeting held at the labour and employment ministry with State Minister for Labour Mujibul Haque in the chair.
“We will take stern action against those who instigated the workers in Ashulia and those who will be caught doing the same in future,” the minister told The Daily Star by phone after the meeting.
“We are gathering information from different sources to know the identities of the instigators in the Ashulia labour unrest. We want to know the reasons why workers have gone for work abstention.”
The minister also said if the workers want a salary hike they can demand it formally and not by work abstention or vandalising factories.
Meanwhile, a Dhaka court yesterday remanded Ekushey Television journalist Nazmul Huda for interrogation in police custody for two days after he was arrested on December 23 on charges of “inaccurate reporting” on the workers' protests.
Dhaka Chief Judicial Metropolitan Magistrate Md Mustafizur Rahman approved the remand after rejecting the journalist's bail plea. The investigation officer of the case sought a seven–day remand.
Earlier on Monday, a Dhaka court granted a three-day remand of 11 people, including Mini Akter Urmi, Savar upazila vice-chairman, and seven labour leaders.