Eid is a moment of chaos for garment workers in Bangladesh. For what is a time of celebration and joy for the rest of the country, garment workers are found lamenting their fate and staging hunger strikes in factories which make them work but deny them their dues.
After the chaos of Eid, most workers of the main contracting factories in Dhaka saw their arrears paid except for the 1600 workers of the Tuba Group which consists of Tuba Fashions, Bukshan Garments, Tuba Textiles and Mita Design. With its Chairman and Managing Director behind bars due to the infamous Tazreen Fashions Fire (another factory under the same Tuba Group), the factories under this group have effectively denied its workers their rightful payment amounting to 3 months worth of salary, 1 month with of overtime, and Eid bonus, pushing them to a hunger strike during a time for which every one including all the garment workers in Bangladesh wait to celebrate.
Already, to this moment, at least 15 workers have fallen ill due to the hunger strike they are observing since 28 July 2014, Monday. With the Industrial Police on high alert with water cannons, it doesn’t look positive at all for the workers who are there only to demand their right.
The workers in Tuba Group have stitched jerseys for German, Brazil, French and other football fans with a contract worth of 260 Million BDT (2.5+ Million Euros), however, they remain protesting wage denial.
Pre-Eid protests are a regular phenomena in Bangladesh which constitute of rallies and violent protests, mostly resulting in part payment of wages, some bonus and paves the way for garment owners striking lucrative privileges from the government in return of pacifying the situation through doing what they were supposed to be doing in the first place – i.e. pay wages and due incentives.
It is argued that labor unrest generating prior to major festivals like Eid act as a great opportunity to hold the nation hostage to meeting certain demands of the powerful garment owners of Bangladesh. In the case of Tuba Group, it has been alleged that for them its factory management is trying to broker a deal to shield its Chairman Delwar Hossain from the law.
In a response to the growing outrage towards the continued industry-wide factory unrest prior to every festival, some factory owners have been pointing out to the law related to short shipment of consignments and the tax levied upon the unused garment fabric to be the reason which weakens them from paying the workers their dues. According to the law factories import fabric and accessories against a declaration of utilization (UD). This determines how much fabric is being used for how many pieces and how many accessories are needed to produce the declared quantity of garments ordered by a buyer. In general, 5% over or short shipments are allowed in the trade. Many factory owners receive incentives for over shipment and many even get penalized short shipment by the buyer. Moreover, the authorities automatically penalise short shipment and impose almost a 150% tax on the un-exported fabric and accessories. This becomes a reason for losses for a factory owner. In most cases factories short ship when they have quality issues with the fabric or the garments.
Failure of Law
Even through last month (June 2014) the industrial police submitted a report to the Home Ministry and the Labor Ministry, warning them that there may be unrest in 506 garment factories over wages and bonus before Eid, and also, on June 26 the Special Branch (SB) of police submitted a report to the State Minister for Home Affairs, stating that wages for the month of May hadn’t been paid in 124 garment factories in Narayanganj, Ashulia, Savar, Tongi and other places, the mass chaos and unrest could not be stopped.
The industrialists have always been favored by law makers and law enforcers in keeping the gun pointed at workers all the time even through the “criminals” are as clear as day light, the law is also provides no legal enforceability to secure festival bonuses of workers who work week long night-shifts (mostly continuous, without sleep) in an effort to meet the deadlines and in turn save their jobs and secure their meager wage with a bonus to bring smiles to some loved faces of these human beings who are more than just workers!
The condition of having no indication or direction in the Bangladesh Labor Law 2006 (amended 2013) for the correct percentage, share or policy for bonuses is a precondition for carnage. While most compliant contracting factories practice issuing a bonus equivalent to one months basic wage, a huge segment of factories (usually non-compliant) pay bonuses in the form of 20, 30 or 40% of basic or even just hand over a lump-sum amount of 500BDT to its workers. There are still going to be hundreds of sub-contracting factories which pay nothing to its workers as bonuses, and will continue to do so in the coming Eid by all account – unless a law enforcing the bonus is enforced for which it is high time.