The tripartite committee formed to resolve the labour unrest in garment industry has found disparity in three grades of the workers' pay structure, and has started working to minimise the wage gap that sparked the protests five days ago.
The 10-member committee with representatives from the government, union leaders and factory owners said disparity was found in grades three, four and five.
“The wages of the workers in those grades did not increase as expected. We are working seriously to reduce the gap in wages in different grades,” Afroza Khan, secretary to the Ministry of Labour and Employment, said at a press briefing following a closed-door committee meeting at the ministry yesterday.
In the new pay scale effective from December, the basic wages in the third and fourth grades fell by Tk 82 and Tk 40, and those in grade five saw a rise of a piffling Tk 156.
Meanwhile, RMG workers staged demonstrations for the fifth straight day to protest the wage disparity. They blocked Dhaka-Tangail highway and clashed with police in Ashulia industrial area yesterday morning.
The government had formed the committee, headed by Afroza, on Wednesday to find the reasons behind the labour unrest and a solution to it. The committee will sit again on Sunday, she said after the emergency meeting yesterday.
The secretary urged the workers to return to work immediately.
“We just need a few days, as we will also have to complete the calculation regarding different grades,” she said.
“We will come up with a solution before the end of the deadline even though the government allowed us one month time to resolve the crisis.”
She also said the ministry would launch 24-hour hotlines so that workers could lodge complaints directly to the ministry.
Afroza alleged that some vested quarters were trying to keep the protest alive.
BLOCKADES, CLASHES CONTINUE
At least 30 garments workers were injured in clashes with law enforcers at Berun and Kathgora of Ashulia yesterday morning.
Witnesses said thousands of workers from different factories refused to join work and started a demonstration after blocking Dhaka-Tangail highway at Berun around 8:00am.
During the protest, workers burnt wood, bamboo and paper on the road. On information, police rushed to the spot, fired several teargas shells, used water cannons and charged batons to disperse the protesters, leaving at least 20 workers injured.
Talking to The Daily Star, Almas Hossain, a garment worker, said, “We have come to the streets for our wage. But police are attacking us. The factory authorities are using police to silence us.”
In another incident in Kathgora area of Ashulia, hundreds of workers from nearby factories took to the streets and blocked the Bismail-Zirabo road around 8:00am.
Around 10:30am, police went to the spot and fired teargas canisters and charged batons on them, leaving at least 10 workers hurt.
Contacted, Shana Shaminur Rahman, superintendent of police of industrial police Dhaka-1, claimed when protesters blockaded the roads, police requested them to leave. But the workers refused and started throwing brick chips at the law enforcers. Police then used teargas to disperse the mob.
Visiting several areas, including Kathgora, Kuturia, Zirabo and Jamgora of Ashulia, this correspondent found over 50 factories closed. BGB members, who had been deployed since Wednesday, were seen in large numbers at different points.
In Gazipur, workers staged demonstrations in phases from 9:00am to 2:00pm in different areas, including Bhogra, Boardbazar, Mogarkhal and Borobari. But police did not allow them to occupy the road for long.
No clash took place in the district.
In the capital's Shewrapara, several hundred workers took to the streets and blocked a road in phases between 8:00am and 1:00pm, causing severe traffic jam.
Agitated workers also blocked the Mirpur-Kalshi road for four hours from 8:00am. Later, they left following assurance from the authorities that their demands would be met.
Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, Mahbubur Rahman Ismail, Bangladesh Textile Garment Sramik Federation, said, “I am hopeful that the workers will go back to their workplaces immediately as the government has already taken the matter seriously.”
He said incidents of labour unrest lasted for two to four days in the past, but it had entered the fifth day this time as the government's message on the wage structure's review had not been disseminated properly.
Ismail said the basic wages of the workers in the third grade had decreased by Tk 82 and for those in the fourth grades by Tk 40. In the fifth grade, the basic pay rose by just Tk 156.
The wages in those grades decreased as the annual five percent increments of the last five years were not added to the recommended basic salary in 2019, said Ismail, who also presented a paper on the wage gap to the emergency meeting on Tuesday.
“We will join our workplaces from Saturday as the management of the factory assured us of reviewing our wage structure yesterday,” an operator of a factory said.
Many other workers echoed his sentiment.
Nazma Akter, president of Sammilito Garment Sramik Federation, another workers' rights group, hoped that the workers would go back to their workplaces immediately as the government was working to resolve the crisis.
Workers announced they would rejoin work tomorrow, those protesting in Savar said.
Meanwhile, Mosharraf Hossain, managing director of Standard Group, a leading garment exporter, assured the workers of reviewing the wage structure during a visit to the factory.
Production in more than 100 factories in industrial zones like those in Ashulia, Savar and Gazipur was hampered due to the unrest.
The factory owners will face difficulties in shipments due to the unrest, said some of the owners after yesterday's meeting.
Besides, Md Iqbal Hossain, managing director of Patriot Eco Apparels Limited, a factory at Tongi BSCIC, alleged that many of the protesters looted goods worth Tk 50 lakh from the factory during the demonstration.
“Although the workers of my factory joined their workplace yesterday, they did not work,” Hossain told The Daily Star over the phone.
“I might lose work orders worth $1.5milliion due to the unrest…,” he said. “I have to make expensive air shipments to maintain the export schedule.”