After the Tuba Group Unrest surrounding unpaid salaries and festival bonuses last August this year (2014), another festival now looms around the garment industry which is also known as the biggest export revenue earning industry of Bangladesh.
This time its Eid-ul-Azha (popularly known as the Korbani Eid – or the festival of animal sacrifice) for the majority Muslims of Bangladesh expected to commence of 5 October 2014 (depending on specific moon sightings), accompanied by the auspicious festival of Durga Puja for the Hindus of Bangladesh, the biggest festival of the largest minority group of the country, expected to commence on 4 October 2014 (depending of specific moon sightings).
Remembering the turmoil caused last Eid, which was just a couple of months ago, State Minister for Labor and Employment warned factory owners today to clear all bonuses by 28 September 2014, and to clear all salary dues with the payment of the month of September to be made by 2 October 2014 .
However, it is only to be seen if this new festival brings joy or another patch of turmoil for ready made garment workers in Bangladesh.
Tuba Group workers, now without their jobs, are stuck looking for jobs at a season when jobs are scarce due to another Eid around the corner. As per the culture of the factories in Bangladesh, they refrain from recruiting new workers before a major festival, so to avoid extra bonuses.
Weeks before the grand festivals are some of the most painful times for factory workers as they are made to work illegal hours without proper overtime payments or weekends. It is popularly known as the pre-festival rush in meeting deadlines, and is forced upon workers who are blackmailed with denial or bonus or cutting/denying wage or even laying them off if they do not comply. Workers end up complying in a desperate attempt to save their wages and bonus to bring a smile on the faces of their loved ones in the festival that they long for throughout the year, practically the only time they can expect to spend some quality time with their family and friends.
With the festivals coming near, cases of mass illness in factories are sprouting up. Today, 21 September 2014, 50 workers from Gazipur’s Mas Trade International Garment Limited fell ill complaining about the contaminated water from the factory’s water line. This incident came after a sewing operator fell on the factory floor on Saturday after drinking water from the same factory’s water line. She eventually was declared dead by doctors, which resulted in worker unrest around the whole area due to which at least four surrounding factories were declared closed to avoid sabotage.
The 50 workers who fell ill the next day were admitted to Tairunnesa Medical College hospital nearby, which informed that workers were actually suffering from suffocation and convulsions while vomiting was also there. Doctors further informed that they found no signs that the condition of workers were related to food poisoning or even contaminated water, but rather commented that it may be due to a mass psychological illness among workers which many term as “mass hysteria” .
Mass Hysteria is caused due to a collective sense of fear. Workers may have been effected collectively to the news of their colleague being infected by contaminated water resulting in her sudden death on the factory floor . Such hysteria might also have been reinforced in them due to the doubtful near future surrounding their wages and festival bonuses even after their long work hours, which often are seen to continue without breaks or weekends and sometimes even back to back night shifts followed by day shifts. Women and men who work in such conditions, still in doubt whether they will get their right, are always bound to be highly susceptible to conditions such as mass hysteria, as they also have been before time and again in Bangladesh.
Apart from this incident, another incident of unrest occurred today on 21 September 2014 in Akik Apparels Limited in Dhaka’s Mirpur, Shewrapara region where workers claim that wages for at least a couple of months are still unpaid for till today. When workers arrived today only to find a lock hanging from the factory gate, agitated workers started protesting only to meet resistance from the industrial police which only tried to disperse them using force in the name of “crowed control”.
As workers marched towards BGMEA for a solution to what they claim is a grave case of fraud against them, it seems only too common as yet another festival comes near.
Workers have every reason to worry for the coming festivals in Bangladesh. However, it is only to be seen how the festivals finally turns out for the workers this time.