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     Volume 5 Issue 99 | June 16, 2006 |

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News Notes

Promises must be kept
After weeks of unrest in the garments industry with thousands of workers agitating for basic demands to be met, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed on June 12, 2006, by the government, garment owners and workers' leaders to endure labour rights and with the hope of restoring peace in the factories.
In spite of such a significant development, there was labour unrest in a number of factories over the issue of salary hike. At least 30 people were injured in clashes between workers and officials of Youngone Group in Dhaka Export Processing Zone (DEPZ). A number of garment factories remained closed despite the withdrawal of the worker' strike.
The whole fiasco erupted after a pregnant worker Lota was allegedly beaten up by a factory official. Several thousand female garment workers confined three factory officials confined to a room of the factory from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
According to a Daily Star report Asgar, a deputy general manager of the factory hit Lota, a sewing operator on the head with a stick because she had stopped work in her section. Factory staff lead by Asgar, started beating up workers inside the factory, smashing windows and computers to make it look as if the workers had been vandalising the factory.
Soon enough Youngone Group in a press release stated that a number of workers who had sparked the May 31 half-day strike had made other workers refrain from work in the factory (in DEPZ). The press release also said that the agitating workers had vandalised the factory and so the group had to close down its factories in DEPZ.
The Daily Star report said that since June 9, Friday, workers were getting agitated as the owners did not give them the full salary and also cut down May 31st half-day's salary for demonstrating for their three-point demand. The demands included wages at the current exchange rate of US dollar and transport arrangements for female workers. While workers refrained from work the factory officials hung up a notice saying that no demands of the workers will be met. Furthermore the factory authorities served warning notices to 15 factory representatives of Workers Representative Welfare Committee (WRWC) on June 10, restricting their movement inside the factory and prohibiting them from talking to one another.
Later the Chairman of (Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority)BEPZA managed to ease the situation by assuring the workers that their allegation against Asgar and other officials would be taken seriously. He also mentioned that once BEPZA rules were implemented the workers would get more facilities and there would be no arbitrary sacking of workers without proper investigation.
Meanwhile workers of several other factories left work after signing and in two factories in Mirpur and Tongi workers clashed over the workers strike. Workers in a factory from Postogala left the work place in large numbers after signing in.
According to the recent MOU, the wage board formed on May 31 has been endorsed and a minimum wage for workers would be declared with three months of its formation. Other terms of the agreement would be implemented within one month.
The MOU promises not to sack any worker for involvement in the recent agitation and states that all cases filed against them would be withdrawn. The workers would be given appointment letters, identity cards immediately. Owners have agreed that they will not stop the formation of trade unions in any factory.
The spate of unrest that coincided with the signing of the MOU indicates that it will take time for the workers to regain trust in their employers. Only if the owners sincerely implement the terms of the MOU, and with considerable speed, will peace be restored.

Dhaka Siege and the legal twist centring it
Advocate Abu Bakar Siddiqui was pleasantly surprised when he saw a 25-or-so-strong policemen guarding his Babar road residence on Saturday night. Upon enquiry he learnt they were there to ensure his security. Bakar must have felt very important. Well Bakar's 24-hours'-or-so fame came following his writ petition to the high court seeking injunction on the opposition combine's Dhaka-siege programme on June 11. Bakar perhaps didn't even realise that he made history when his appeal to high court was disposed of in a matter of a couple of hours. Justice Dastagir was lightning quick to give his verdict sitting at his home. The controversial verdict invoked outrage from the supreme court bar association who saw political interference and an attempt to degrade the sanctity of the highest court by issuing politically motivated verdict. According to eminent jurists the court verdict was unprecedented in that while the opposition's programme was called around a month ago, the petitioner filed the writ petition only several hours from the commencement of the siege programme. Bakar, the triumphant lawyer, who happens to head an Islamist Political Front called Muslim Millat Party, also earned fame after he had filed a case against Hasina on the issue of hartal in 1994.

Who is Going to Punish the Torturers?
Bulu, the director of Boishakhi TV, was subjected to inhuman torture by the police while in custody, and there is a clear sign that an influential minister has made it a point to make him suffer at the hands of the law enforcing agency. While the media reports established the fact that the arrest as well as the subsequent ill-treatment in custody was engineered by Mirja Abbas, minister for housing and establishment, it is the Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB), a non-government agency, that came forward to protest the extra-judiciary action. HRPB filed a writ petition questioning the treatment meted out to Bulu while in custody. Following the petition the High Court on June 11 issued a rule upon the government to show cause as to why it should not be directed to take punitive measures against persons who have tortured Bulu.
It is a well-known fact that Bulu first fell out of favour with Abbas with whom he launched the Boishakhi TV a few months ago, when on May 31 he filed a case against Abbas accusing him of resorting to force in making him transfer shares of Boishakhi TV. Within 12 hours of the filing of the case, Bulu was arrested in two different cases, one filed by his estranged wife Hosne Ara Najnin, who accused him of torture and another by Abdus Salam Mojumdar, the project secretary of Central Command Council of Freedom Fighters, who brought charges of attempted murder and embezzlement. And the rest is well reported in the media, Bulu has been taken into remand and was tortured. Now that the High Court ruled against the perpetrators who unabashedly went on to abuse the law to let a person at the helm seek personal vengeance, will the government feel obliged to take actions in line with the rule?

EC bent on creating yet another mess
The Election Commission (EC) has again made a controversial decision regarding voter roll. As if it (EC) has not already created enough trouble concerning the roll. At first the Chief Election Commissioner obstinately decided to make a fresh voter list while all the major and minor political parties and significantly the law itself required a revised voter roll. CEC Justice MA Aziz however ignored all in favour of the ruling BNP who happened to be the only party to want a fresh list. He even had the audacity to ignore a High Court order -- he said the EC is not bound to follow what he said a High Court directive regarding voter roll -- and went on with preparing a fresh voter list. Finally when the Supreme Court held the HC's order, Justice Aziz said he would go by the highest court's order. His stubbornness however cost the government exchequer about Tk 100 crore. Now, 20 days after the SC verdict, the EC has now decided to revise the existing voter list without sending their men door to door. Though the law in this regard clearly dictates that the list should be revised by making door-to-door visits, the EC has decided that people who became eligible as voters since 2000, when the last electoral roll was prepared, will have to go to the offices of election officials at the district, upazila and thana headquarters. Experts have termed this unprecedented way of revising the voter list as unrealistic. People are not simply used to get enlisted as voters as traditionally names of eligible voters are collected and recorded by enumerators employed by the EC. One expected the EC would be much more cautious after SC declared its fresh voter list venture illegal, but if their latest decision is anything to go by the distance between CEC's action and sanity seems too wide to bridge.

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