Ashulia unrest baffles garment makers
A 10-day shutdown of garment factories in the wake of labour unrest in Ashulia in June dented the country's image as one of world's leading readymade garment exporters, industry people said yesterday.
They are at loss over the repeated labour unrest at the garment factories in Ashulia, although they strictly maintained labour standards and reasonably remunerating the workers.
“We even pay festival bonuses which are not covered by the labour laws,” said one garment owner, citing the rarity of unrests in other industrial belts, particularly Gazipur.
The Ashulia garment owners suspect there is an influential group with vested interests behind the unrest. A lawmaker is accused of having a hand in the violence.
Their comments came at a discussion with The Daily Star at the newspaper's office in the capital.
"During the unrest, many buyers threatened to shift their order to other countries," said Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
Mohiuddin mentioned an instance of one major American buyer trying to shift 50 percent of its orders to India, despite the production cost being 35 cent higher there.
AK Azad, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), said the unrest in Ashulia greatly concerned the buyers.
"After the unrest in Ashulia, they have become wary and are now closely monitoring all developments, including the political situation," said Azad.
Fazlul Hoque, president of Bangladesh Employers Federation, blamed local influential politicians for the unrest in Ashulia.
He also questioned the role of labour leaders and urged them to play a constructive role.
"During the unrest in Ashulia, no labour leaders went there to mitigate the situation, ask the workers to stop the violence."
Abdus Salam Murshedy, president of Exporters Association of Bangladesh, said Ashulia-based factories are the model factories.
"Still, a majority of unrest takes place in Ashulia. This is happening regularly because there has not been any trial for the perpetrators of the violence so far," he said, calling for an investigation into the matter.
Mohiuddin said the violence at the industrial belts discourages youth from taking up jobs at the garment factories.
"Every factory is already running with a 25 percent shortage in workforce. Parents do not want to send their children to garment factories thanks to the violence of which there has been a huge coverage in the media," he said.
"There are even examples of trainees leaving the factories despite undertaking the requisite training," he said.
The BGMEA chief does not want that the reputation of the sector to be tainted further.
"We are closely working with labour organisations and the government to narrow the gap between the owners and the workers," he said, acknowledging communication problems generating from mid-level management who are not adequately trained.
“It would be unfortunate if the country's garment factories fail because of hostile environment created,” he added.
Mohammad Hatem, vice president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, also spoke.