Workers' woes | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 19, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, June 19, 2012

Workers' woes

Saidul Islam, a knitting worker, always wanted his wife to be a housewife. He wanted her to stay at home and raise their only child, which was of foremost importance to both of them.
"I have been married for four years and living with my wife in Norshinghpur of Ashulia. I did not bother to send her to work to any factory as I had thought I would be able to afford my family's all expenses," he said.
His income has been deteriorating, the cost of living has been rising; to put it simply, he has been scrambling to make ends meet.
Last year he was earning between Tk 12,000 and Tk 14,000, but this year it fell down to Tk 8,000 to Tk 9,000.
So, earlier this month, he had to resign to the circumstances and reluctantly send his wife Shahana Akhter to work, at a garment factory in their neighbourhood. She now chips in with Tk 3,000 a month.
What is more unfortunate is that the couple had to send their son to Islam's parent's house in Pabna. They do not have anyone in the industrial belt to mind the three-year-old when they are away at work.
"The rate per piece has remained the same but our living cost has spiralled," said the 28-year-old Islam, who is paid according to the number of pieces of garment he manufactures.
"We even do not get any money when there is no work available, but we still have to sit idle in the factory," he added.
Islam starts at 8:00am, and although he is supposed to work until 5:00pm, he toils for more than 12 hours each day.
"But unlike workers of other section of a garment unit, the knitters do not get overtime," he told The Daily Star on Sunday.
His colleague Al-Amin just got married and brought his wife to Ashulia earlier this month.
Less than a fortnight after their arrival, his factory has been closed down indefinitely following clashes between garment workers and law enforcers in the industrial belt over wage hike demands.
"I am now in tension. I do not know when the factory will reopen," he said.
Due to labour unrest, owners of about 300 garment factories in Ashulia on the outskirts of the capital kept the factories shut from Sunday.
Workers are demanding a rise in wage which, they believe, is reasonable given the steep rise of the prices of essential commodities and house rent in recent times.
Bangladesh's three million-odd garment workers last saw a pay rise nearly two years ago.
"After taking care of food and rent we are only left with only Tk 200," said Kamrun Nahar, who pays Tk 1,800 as rent for the solitary room she shares with her husband and sister.
Nahar's landlord has already informed her of intention to raise the rent to Tk 2,000, due to the nationwide sharp rise in electricity bills since March.
"Because we purchase everything on credit we have to pay over and above everyone else. For instance, four pieces of eggs cost us Tk 45. But the garment owners and the government refuse to see it," she said yesterday.
Abdul Aziz, 40, who used to work for a garment company in Gazipur, now sells vegetables in Nischintapur.
"Without movement and demonstration, the salary of the workers does not go up. However, the wages of administrative and management staff is increased regularly."
Garment workers say they work above and beyond the call of duty for the hope of a decent living, but still they are not given enough money.
"We do not take to the streets for no reason. Let alone sending money to our parents in the village, we are scraping through to meet our living expenses in Dhaka," said Shihab Hossain, worker of another Ashulia-based garment factory.
"There are even incidents where some had to ask money from their parents in the village to survive in the city," he added.
One woman worker said the factories expropriate from their wages at every given opportunity. “Uneducated like us are exploited extensively,” she said.
Workers complained that they do not always receive their overtime payments. As for the sick leave, they have to go to the factory premises in their condition and prove the illness. Workers blamed mid-level management and other support staff at the factory for their workplace woes. "It is like a prison," said one worker out of frustration.
Workers, however, are uncompromising of the pay rise, as they feel they have their backs against the wall. "We will continue to take to the streets for the pay rise," said Amena Khatun, a 43-year-old garment worker.

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