Arrears main reason behind unrest
Non-payment of arrears over the last three months was one of the major reasons behind yesterday's unrest among garment workers, said agitating labourers.
Meanwhile, BGMEA leaders termed the unrest at Nippon Garments an act of sabotage by outsiders.
The workers alleged that the authorities of Nippon Garments Ltd, an exporter of woven garment, announced the shutdown suddenly to deprive them of Eid bonuses.
The workers said they could not sense such a move even the day before.
Nippon Garments Ltd, owned by Abedin Group, started its operation at Auchpara in Tongi in 1982.
"As usual, I came to the factory to join work yesterday. When we wanted to enter the factory, the guards stopped us saying the factory has been shut down," said a female worker requesting anonymity.
She said a notice was hung on the main entrance to the factory saying Nippon Garments has been shut down from October 31 to November 29 due to a fall in orders from international buyers following the global recession.
The authorities asked the workers to collect the arrears at the factory on November 10.
However, nothing was mentioned about bonus for Eid-ul-Azha, which is less than a month away.
Wishing anonymity, a police inspector told The Daily Star that a large group of outsiders from a nearby slum at Ershadnagar was involved in vandalism at the factory and on the Dhaka-Mymensingh Highway.
The police officer claimed the factory authorities might have hired goons from Ershadnagar to intimidate the workers following the announcement.
He said almost 80 percent of about 3,000 workers at the factory are women, but a very few female workers were seen on the scene during the incident.
"This indicates that it was a stage-managed drama to deprive the garment workers of salary and Eid bonus," he said.
The police inspector said outsiders from the Ershadnagar slum pelted the police and agitating workers with stones to create chaos.
Nippon Garments Ltd has been facing a slump in orders from international buyers due to the global financial meltdown, said a factory official wishing not to be named.
The official claimed that the company needs Tk 90 lakh to pay the salaries of the workers, which is not possible under the present circumstances.
Besides, the company has Tk 16 crore in bank and other liabilities, the official added.
"We have paid the workers salaries up to September. On November 10, they will be paid salary for October," said Shahab Uddin, commercial manager of Abedin Group.
In a hastily arranged press briefing yesterday, leaders of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) referring to sources in the law enforcement agencies claimed that no one died during the clashes at the unit.
The leaders disputed the workers allegation of irregular payment of wages.
"It is not true that the unrest took place over non-payment of salaries," said BGMEA President Abdus Salam Murshedy in the press briefing at BGMEA office in Dhaka.
"No incident of death was reported by the law enforcement agencies," he added.
Echoing a verbal clarification from Nippon Garment, the leaders however, admitted that the factory has not been running very well for the last three months due to a slump in orders from international buyers following the global recession.
The clashes at the factory erupted around 8:00am when about 3,000 workers staged demonstrations demanding their due wages from Nippon Garment at Ershad Nagar of Tongi in Gazipur.
The BGMEA leaders said they visited the factory with law enforcers but did not find any bodies.
The BGMEA formed a five-member probe committee to investigate the reasons behind the unrest. The committee will submit a report within the next three days.
"It could be an act of sabotage like earlier unrests in the sector," said former BGMEA president Tipu Munshi while analysing the incident.
Munshi, also a member of parliament of the ruling party, said among the injured, only one belonged to the factory.
When a constable was shot and injured, the question of workers' unrest becomes questionable, Munshi said.
Echoing the BGMEA leaders, Israfil Alam, member of the parliamentary standing committee on labour and employment ministry, said outsiders might have caused the incident, as the garment sector is very competitive.
He said as per the Labour Law 2006, there is no obligation to notify the workers before layoffs. "This is a shortcoming of the law."
Referring to the investigation report by the last caretaker government, Israfil Alam said such incidents usually take place due to conspiracy from outside.