Violence in RMG sector
Monday's unrest originating from a knitwear factory at Ashulia spread to other garment units ending up in a widespread violence and damage to machinery in five factories, vehicles on the road and clashes with the police. The labour-violence of that day reportedly had to do with alleged excesses
committed by administrative officials of the knitwear unit concerned. Spontaneously, the unrest spread among workers from other factories engulfing the entire area into a veritable battlefield.
Whenever such labour-unrest with attendant violence takes place, the factory owners, trade bodies and the government invariably point fingers at some unseen quarters for the situation. The workers, on the other hand, blame the factory management for such violence. Their complaints include refusal on the part of the management to listen to their demands for pay raise, non-payment of bonuses and other benefits before religious festivals, highhandedness of factory officials and use of hired goons to suppress them. But neither side has the patience to listen to the other side's point of view, and the problems in this vital sector continue to fester.
Foreign buyers at a recent meeting in Dhaka, as well as a hearing of the US Congress, expressed serious concerns about the unrests and violence in the RMG industry. The State Department officials made special mention of the absence of labourers' right, especially their right of
association. The government's failure to tack down and try the killers of labour leader Aminul Islam, who disappeared on April 4 this year and other incidents of rights violation featured prominently in the Congress hearing with cautionary notes about what implications these developments might have on Bangladesh's exports.
The government can ill-afford to ignore these warnings from its potential export destinations. It should mount credible investigations to find the real cause of the labour unrest in this sector and address the problems at their source rather than look for enemies elsewhere.
The government should also impress upon the
garment owners to allow labour unions to grow in the industry as the universally accepted medium for negotiations between the owners and labour to resolve the crises in the garment sector.