Yesterday, on 15.11.13, 57 Worker Federations came to an agreement with the BGMEA and held a press conference declaring that till the Minimum Wage Board publishes its final decision in a Gazette form, there will be no protest or rally backed by the worker federations. However, today on 16.11.13, there have been massive worker protests in Ashulia and Gazipur by agitated workers. Workers fearing injustice in the proportionate increase of the Operators (a grade up than the helper, who is the lowest paid of the sector) may only get a few hundred BDT more than the helpers. Operators account for more than 70% of the workforce in the garment sector, mostly women, suffer from low wages in a country with high inflation, no social security and high corruption in the public services.
The unrest among the Garment workers today is a surprising display of their helplessness. Although the worker leaders informed that they will persuade the workers to be peaceful and get back to their work-stations till the gazette has been finally published (and thus turned to a law), their failure seems visible. It now seems that had the leaders been more interested to pacify workers and win their hearts, listen to their demands and then peacefully associated with them to rally for support of their demands from the ordinary citizens of the country, violence could have been avoided. The violence, as always, have only harmed innocent civilians and garment workers, and can only spur with mischief – mostly from the trapped restlessness from within when ones voice is ignored by all.
Once the Gazette is published, and the minimum wage 2013 as proposed is the law, it will be interesting to see how soon that can be implemented in an industry where implementation of laws is and has always been a challenge. However, there is little opportunity to discuss in its alteration or change or any compromise by any party after its final publication, which of course will come after the agreement of the BGMEA, the government backed wage board, and the so called representatives of 4 million beating hearts of workers which toil day and night for several times more than their own numbers.
The Freedom of Association of garment workers is still an issue to be resolved in a Free Land that is Bangladesh. About 1% of the workers are unionized, and even those are also not quite active. With more than 70 odd garment worker federations, the freedom of association and its age old format is struggling as ever.
Hopefully there will be peace, and carnage will disappear. Hopefully Justice may prevail and Injustice vanquish to thin air…
We mourn for the losses the poor workers will have to suffer due to an unrest and the carnage that follows such activities. We hope for a peaceful and just solution soon.