Since Tesco decided to pull out of Liberty Fashion Wears building number 2 in the month of July 2013  due to cracks in the building, there had been a united effort from local and international NGOs, trade unions, and global unions to inform the workers of the dangers of the factory and that their wages and other dues will be paid regardless if the factory remains closed for repairs as promised by Tesco.
However, that was not the case as supervisor level workers were compelled to work  without payment till they had to protest  for their rights, which eventually gathered the attention of activists and NGOs who had earlier known the problem to have been resolved through various sources – although RISE Society continually informed of the situation as one where the workers received no payment or promise to get paid and work had always been going on  which later the factory owners also accepted .
Currently more than 5500 workers of Liberty Fashions Limited (Mainly run by TESCO orders) hit abject poverty after the management staff paid BDT 1500 to each worker on Oct 15, 2013. That was when the workers last went to the factory premises.
The workers had not been paid since July 2013. The workers worked till Oct 6, 2013 and after that all the factory buildings (unit 1, 2 and 3) had been shut down.
The Unit/building 2 had been shut down (or at least shown as such) in late June 2013; the 2 other units kept running normally. The unit was shut down since Tesco inspectors detected considerably large cracks on the ceiling, beams and walls on the fourth floor.
International Labour groups and activists urged local NGOs and trade unions to inform the workers of Building 2 to stop going in for work until the factory was deemed ‘safe’ after repairs. Workers informed that neither management staff, nor local NGOs or trade unions spread any news of that sort.
Machines from building 2 were moved to the two other buildings. The Generator was pulled down stairs outside the building. Most of the workers from building 2 were literally stuffed into the other 2 buildings. However, 125 workers from the cutting section remained in the building two on the ground floor until all the buildings had to be shut down; in other words, building 2 (the unsafe building) was always open. The owner closed the factory main gate from the outside to show that the building had been shut down.
None of the workers from any of the building had been paid for 4 months. It was announced by the management of Liberty Fashions Limited that the workers would be paid in full for the all the months due on Oct 6, 2013 (the last day to work at Liberty). After hours waiting and clashes between workers and Industrial Police, all had been forgotten about paying anything to the workers. Many Liberty workers were left bleeding and fatally injured; with empty stomachs and heavy hearts they went back to their homes defeated.
Some of the Liberty workers had 4 members of the family working in the same factory. All lost their income source all at once.
Workers still cry for the days when they had work in their factory, the days when they could extend a handful of rice to their children’s mouth. Now all they remain with are tears of hopelessness. Their futures bleak, they want a job or their factory to be reopened.
A grocer who is the husband to a Liberty worker says, “My wife lost her job at the factory… we thought that we could survive on my vegetable sale everyday…but how wrong I had been… all Liberty workers live in the same area in Zirani…they all buy from the same local grocers…now all my customers (liberty workers) take the vegetable out on loan…what will I feed my children then?!”
Many sold their television sets, ceiling fans, gold plated ear-rings and other things to pay their house rent. An ex-Helper now begs for a bowl of rice to bring to her son who remains locked for hours in a one-room shelter.
Ex-workers mention, ‘We didn’t think that would be the end…we thought we could easily get another job in any of the neighboring factories…but this was shocking to us when we were told that if we had ever worked for Liberty Fashions, we will never be recruited in the neighbouring factories! That’s not fair!…we cannot leave this area all of a sudden! How can 5000 workers suddenly shift to another area?!’
Two workers willingly gave us their stories (which have been recorded for evidential purposes, but for the safety of the workers it will not be released):
Working in Liberty Fashions Wears Building # 2 for 4 years
“…we used to go to work regularly but we didn’t receive our wage or bonus; that is why we just protested. The police would break open our gates and come up to us. The worker leaders came and told us that whatever you have worked for you will be given. And then it was about 2 days before Eid that the factory paid each of us with BDT 1500. The rest they said would be paid on the 26th of the month. Then there was no word about opening the factory, instead, the police just came and there was a lot of violence. So the workers said that they will take the risk of their life and approach the gate. The police attacked the workers with gas, and after the workers were attacked with gas they ran back to their homes. The police followed and tortured us even in our homes. Police came and attacked us with gas (tear gas). We all have children at home; they attacked our families with the gas…a lot of gas and fighting. From the month of Ramadan we found out that the building had cracks. Those who used to work on the top floor told us that after inspection it was found that the building had cracks. There are cracks and it will fall and break. The owner said that we can be assured and keep working; he said that there is no problem, but when the buyer came, they told us to leave. So I was just thinking that we never get to leave, but those who worked on the top floor received leaves because there’s some problem up there. We informed that if we work here, we will all work together, if not, we will not work at all. Later what they did was, made 8 hourly shifts. Some went at 8am and worked till 2pm; some went at 2pm and worked till 10pm. When building was closed, then the canteen was cleared to make room for the packing activities; the place where the original go-down had been was converted into a sewing section, and another go-down was built nearby. The sewing section would for 8 hours. In both the buildings work went on. After Eid it has now been 1-2 months. Altogether we don’t get paid for 3 months. After the Ramadan Eid, we didn’t receive any wage. We got BDT 1500 in the Eid holidays; we received nothing else till now. It’s going by since we are loaning money from the village. We are looking for jobs. Now that we have come to Dhaka, we have to stay here, what should we do back in the village? We loan money and eat something whatever we find. We tell our money lenders that we can pay them when we get a job again…what can we do going back?”
Working at Liberty Fashions Wears Building # 2 for 3 months
“…I worked in building 2. I heard that there are cracks, but never saw any. What I heard is that there was always a wage problem in the factory…unless you protested, you would not be paid. The operator next to me said, ‘here old beggars don’t get fed, yet new beggars await food’ they asked me, ‘don’t you know that this factory has these problems?’ and I said, ‘If I knew would I have come? I was new there, I didn’t know these things. Until we protested we didn’t get paid. They would pay after 15th; even after the 15th sometimes. The owner called everyone for a meeting and said that we all agreed then he could restart that factory. So I came home and informed my husband, but my husband told me that I should never go to that building. He told me that I should rather leave the job, but never go back there again…We would just keeping looking around if there was a noise or something or if something would happen how would we escape. We remained in constant fear. To any noise we would just stand right up from our machines to see what the noise was. We are to get 2 months worth of payment. Since September there’s this problem. We didn’t even receive the Eid Bonus. They haven’t said anything yet. All we hear is that the factory is due to open in January. But the owner hasn’t decided on that yet. What we want is that the factory would open again and work would start again, so that we work again and earn money. We want work; we don’t want the owner’s loss or anything else. We want work. We want the rest of the money that we earned. It’s enough if the factory restarts…”
Recently, the factory owners have hanged a banner in front of their factory main gates which is an advertisement to sell a portion of their land for the payment of workers wages and dues. They have yet another banner informing the workers that due to factory repairs the factory must remain closed, moreover unfortunately the dues could not be cleared before Eid. The factory owners are discussing for a way out of this crisis with the BGMEA, but for the time being they ask for workers to be patient and have taken this initiative of selling the land for their wages.
However, the Liberty Fashion Wear workers are heartbroken and want a quick solution. They fail to be confident on promises which they term as a “hoax”. They complain about the genuineness of the owner’s intention to repair or reopen the factory, which for them is unreasonable and unconfirmed. They want the owner to contact them directly, they want their wages – they want a job to earn their rightful living.
The ex-Liberty workers still await their wages and a chance to work again, be it elsewhere or even the Liberty buildings.