Recently factories in Bangladesh are generally implementing the Minimum Wage 2013 in their factories, since its declaration back in November 2013. January 2014 is the month of the first salary paid according to this new structure. Some factories however find it more complicated, and often end up in violence. As unfortunate as this is, it carries a story for us to see how these could always be avoided so easily.
Recently, Tung Hai Sweaters Limited in the Mirpur area of Dhaka had an unrest surrounding wages. Due to current political unrest in Bangladesh, garment factories have been facing huge losses in not being able to ship their consignments to the Port for shipment. The infamous blockade hampers the trucks which would otherwise carry their consignments to the port city easily. Work pressure has not been there at some factories, and this particular factory seemed to be one of them. However, the wage is a livelihood for many families and at least the minimum wage is expected to be paid on time.
A worker describes his and his fellow worker’s ordeal when the wages were not paid correctly this January 2014.
Mr. H, a Knitting Operator of Tung Hai Sweaters Limited (Mirpur, Darussalam, Dhaka)
“Since the first week of December 2013, we were asked to leave the factory everyday at 1PM in the afternoon. Such a scenario made us workers gather together and inform our General Manager that the wage we will get this month will not be sufficient for us to pay our rents and manage the expenses for our subsistence. However, the General Manager informed us that we will get only the minimum possible wage that we are supposed to get for this month.
We went to take our salaries on the first week of January 2014 (when minimum wage 2014 is applicable) only to discover that three different wage sheets are made. For me, in the first sheet the wage was fixed at 5300BDT, in the second sheet the wage was fixed at 3861BDT, while on the third sheet our duties and work for the month of December 2013 was described. I signed all the papers, but received the wage of 3861BDT; this was same for all the workers that day, as some received 3200BDT, 3500BDT or 3800BDT etc.
We contacted the floor In-Charge first to inquire about the wage which not only was against the new Minimum Wage law as published in 2013 and applicable on this salary, but also the confusing part where we had to sign the papers for receiving wages at the right scale but actually receiving something as low as we did. The In-Charge informed us that he will take the matter to the General Manager and inform us on the next Saturday; he then asked us to continue doing our work as usual.
Later on Saturday, 11 January 2014, when we asked for an explanation the management became angry and started shouting at us, we remained quiet to save our jobs. When we arrived to the factory gates next morning, the management staff of our factory were standing there asking for our attendance card and cell phones. We did not agree to return our cell phones and thus they did not let us enter the factory, and as time went by more workers kept arriving and it created a big crowed. After sometime, a senior management staff came to us and asked us to select three representatives and send them to the management to discuss our demands. This infuriated us and we demanded the management to talk with all of us, and whatever we shall speak it should be open for all to hear and everyone should be able to give their opinions.
The conversation got heated and eventually a member of the management staff came forward to hit one of our workers. This action made the crowed angry and the management staff also came forward in an attacking mode, which eventually created a violent conflict among us. We noticed that the management had prepared sticks, canes and stones already to use them in case a conflict starts, and they finally did use them against us.
Four workers received serious head and hand injuries, while others were also injured during the clash. They finally chased us away.
I managed to get to a nearby hospital only to find that I had a fractured hand and a busted head. The doctor stitched my head wound and bandaged my hand. I had to bear the entire cost of this medical treatment, which of course is just another blow to my current financial crisis. Later I came to know that there are 8 cases filed against us with eleven workers named and a further thirty unnamed workers as culprits for the violence that day.
I do not know how I will manage in the coming months, and what many hardships might I have to face. I am still working in the same factory as it is hard to get a job in factories now after the new minimum wage 2013 have been declared.”