Garment exporters threaten shutdown | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 15, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, June 15, 2012

Garment exporters threaten shutdown

Worker unrest stops production in 300 Ashulia factories for fourth day

Police go into action in Ashulia on the outskirts of the capital yesterday after agitating garment workers block a road demanding pay hike. The charred remains of a microbus of a television channel, which the workers had torched earlier in the day, is still on the road. Photo: Palash Khan

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Garment owners have threatened to shut down their factories for an indefinite period from Sunday if workers continued their violent protests, suspending production in the readymade garment belt at Ashulia.
“We'll close all our units first at Ashulia and gradually across the country if the violence continues,” Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said at a press briefing yesterday.
He urged the government to take action against the workers who vandalised factories and blocked the roads in the industrial zone for the fourth straight day yesterday.
“A national and international evil power wants to destroy the industry and the government and exporters know who instigated the general workers to do vandalism,” Mohiuddin told the briefing at the BGMEA office in the capital.
He said most government agencies knew how the demonstration took place and that they had footage of the vandalism.
It all began on Monday when about 4,500 workers of Artistic Design Ltd, a packaging factory of Ha-Meem Group owned by FBCCI President AK Azad, took to the streets demanding a raise in their wages.
Yesterday, they staged violent protests in the presence of State Minister for Home Shamsul Haque Tuku, local lawmaker Talukder Md Towhid Jung (Murad) and some top police officials, who went to Ashulia on the outskirts of the capital to convince the workers to return to work.
Their efforts went in vain as the workers ransacked more than 150 vehicles and vandalised 30 factories and put barricades suspending traffic on Dhaka-Tangail highway for eight hours and on Nabinagar-Kalaiakoir road for about four hours since 8:00am.
The agitating workers clashed sporadically with law enforcers, leaving more than 100 people, including 12 policemen, injured, said Abdus Salam, director general of Industrial Police.
They set several vehicles on fire, including a microbus of Maasranga Television, a motorbike of a policeman, and also furniture of a factory.
Police fired several hundred rubber bullets and teargas canisters in addition to baton-charging to disperse the clashing workers, who retaliated with brickbats and also beat up policemen with bamboo sticks, witnesses said.
Owners of around 300 factories closed their units although a few factories reopened for a while in the morning.
The industrial police chief told The Daily Star around 4,000 forces from Industrial Police, Savar District Police, Armed Police Battalion and Rapid Action Battalion were deployed to calm the situation.
According to him, police fired around 200 rubber bullets and teargas.
During the clashes from Monday to Wednesday, around 300 people were injured, some 200 vehicles ransacked and about 100 factories vandalised, police and witnesses said.
Yesterday's demonstration began around 8:00am.
As the day wore on, thousands of workers joined the agitating groups, said Fayezul Kabir, deputy director of Industrial Police.
The demonstrators set fire to tyres and furniture on the road and chanted slogans, demanding a pay hike.
At present, a garment worker gets between Tk 3,000 and 5,500 a month. The agitating workers demand a raise between Tk 1,500 and 2,000.
"My salary is Tk 4,400 and I got Tk 6,200 last month, including my overtime pay," said Rashidul Islam, a sewing operator of Sharmin Group.
"My minimum monthly expenditure is Tk 10,000," he said, adding: "I am facing severe difficulties to run my family with the income."
Like Rashidul, a number of other workers spoke of their hardship in maintaining their families at a time when house rent and prices of essentials are skyrocketing.
Tuku along with lawmaker Murad Jung went to Ha-Meem Group premises around 7:30am yesterday, where he held a meeting with the authorities and labour leaders.
After the meeting, the minister asked the agitating workers to return to work. He also requested the workers to calm down, assuring them that the prime minister herself was looking into the matter.
Several resolutions were agreed on in the meeting mediated by Tuku.
Contacted, Brig Gen (retd) Mohammad Ali Mondal, director of the project at Ashulia of Ha-Meem Group, told The Daily Star that the workers would get an increment from next month.
The owners will also pay for the treatment of the injured workers and that the workers will get the full month's salary although production remained suspended for four days, he added.
Also, the workers were promised that the government would see to it that their house rents at Ashulia do not go up further.
Lawmaker Towhid Jung of Dhaka-19 (Savar) will oversee the matter, Mohammad Ali added.

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