Readymade garment workers on Tuesday staged demonstrations in front of their factories at four of the six industrial zones in Bangladesh, demanding cancellation of layoff, payment of arrears salary and to rejoin work.
Workers from around 10 garment factories staged demonstrations in Dhaka, Ashulia, Savar, Gazipur, Narayanganj and Chittagong, according to sources from the industrial police.
In Ashulia's Narsinghpur area, at least 300 workers of Adiyat Apparels Ltd staged a demonstration at 10am to protest layoffs amid the Covid-19 epidemic.
The factory owner announced the layoffs ignoring both the government directive and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) request, said protesting workers.
Two hours later, the workers left the spot after the Industrial police assured them of looking into the matter.
Speaking to The Business Standard, workers said the factory declared shutdown on March 28 due to the deadly pandemic. Later the factory announced layoffs till May 31 by issuing a notice without paying salaries for March.
Later on April 12, the factory authorities sent text messages to workers through mobile phones and announced that the layoffs will extend till Jun 1.
The protesters also said the factory authorities paid the workers half salary for March on April 24 and 25. The workers are now demonstrating for the rest of the salary for March, salary for April and withdrawal of the layoffs.
Shahnaz Akter, an operator of the factory, said the authorities have announced the layoff for two months.
"During the time we, (provisional workers who have been working for less than a year at the company) would not get any salary if the layoff is not cancelled," she added.
Shahnaz continued, "This epidemic has put us in a critical situation. The factory authorities are trying to deprive workers by announcing a two-month layoff. We refuse to accept this decision. The layoff notice should be withdrawn, otherwise the movement will continue."
Meanwhile, Tamim Ahmed, managing director of the Adiyat Apparels, said, "Many factories have declared layoffs, so we announced it too. Because we had only 20 percent work left in our factory.
"Meanwhile, the government as well as the BGMEA told us not to announce layoffs. We are facing a dilemma."
Claiming that 85 percent of the workers have been paid salary for March, Tamim Ahmed said, "Now we are paying salary and allowances even after we are in trouble. Rest of the workers will also be paid very soon."
Sarwar Hossain, organising secretary of the Bangladesh Textile and Garment Industry Workers League, said, "The factory authorities had announced a two-month layoff. This is an injustice to the workers. We are demanding to cancel the lay-off."
Responding to queries, Industrial Police Zone-1 Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Jane Alam Khan said, "To resolve the matter, they have communicated with the factory owner and workers. Attempts are being made to resolve the issue.
Dragon Sweater factory workers protest in Malibagh
More than a hundred workers of Dragon Sweater factory launched a protest demonstration on Tuesday by blocking the DIT road in the capital's Malibagh area, demanding payment of their due salaries.
The workers began the demonstration from 10am. The blockade created a long tailback of vehicles in the area.
A protesting worker said they had not been receiving their wages for the last five months.
"We have been forced to take to the streets as the factory owner did not pay our salaries and allowances," echoed another worker named Uzzal.
Commenting on the matter, Rampura Police Station Officer-in-Charge Kuddus Fakir said, "Police are trying to resolve the issue by talking with both parties – the workers and the owners."
Protests in several factories
The Industrial police data said 400 workers of another garment factory named Jeasha fashion staged a demonstration demanding payment of their salaries for March at Hamayetpur area of Savar.
About 400 Workers of Satter Tex Ltd, staged a demonstration in front of the factory gate for wages for the last 3 months in Kaliakoir area of Gazipur.
About 900 and 1300 workers from two Chattogram Export Processing Zone factories – Papella Ltd and UFM (BD) Ltd respectively, have staged demonstrations demanding payment of their salaries for March and April.
Industrial police sources said workers from the UFM (BD) Ltd were supposed to be paid on Tuesday, but the owner said he will pay them on May 10.
About 3,000 workers of Antim Knitting, Dyeing and Finishing Ltd, have staged demonstrations demanding their 50 percent due wages for March in Narayanganj.
Demonstrations for returning to work
Workers of two factories, EB Tex Dress Shirt Ltd and Sun Cherry Body Fashion Manufacturing Ltd, have staged demonstrations for allowing them to work in Gazipur.
However, the factory owners have committed to run their operations with limited workers as per the government directive, said the industrial police.
According to the industrial police data, a total of 4,318 industries were opened on Thursday. Of them, only 174 are from the textile sector, and the remaining 1,566 were garment factories.
Updated data from the industrial police shows 173 garment and textile industry workers remain unpaid as of Tuesday. Among the 152 garment factories, 83 are members of the BGMEA and 69 of the BKMEA. The remaining 21 are textile factories.