Apparel workers took to the streets in protest on Wednesday – risking exposure to Covid-19 – demanding to know when they would receive their wages for March.
They demonstrated because most factory owners have not declared a specific deadline by which they will pay their workers last month's wages, according to police and industry insiders.
Workers from over 50 garment factories in Dhaka, Gazipur and Chattogram, on Wednesday, demonstrated, demanding their salaries.
They blocked roads in Uttara, Tongi, Savar and Ashulia in Dhaka, as well as Gazipur and Chittagong.
"Over 200 workers blocked the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway at the Jasim Uddin Road in Uttara in the morning. Later, the workers ended their protest after their factory owners assured them of payments by a specific date," Hafizur Rahman Real, additional deputy commissioner of Police at the Uttara division, told The Business Standard.
Raji Shikdar, an operator at Decency Fashion Ltd, told The Business Standard, "We had no idea when we would get our salaries from last month. That is why we came out of our homes and took to the streets."
"After a two-hour demonstration, the factory's managing director assured us of payments by April 26. Then we ended our protest, " he said.
In Gazipur, garment workers agitated for wages defying the lockdown for a third consecutive day on Wednesday.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) said they responded to unrest within the shortest possible time, with their team members, and communicated with respective factory owners to resolve the problem.
"Small factories have problems regarding bank loan facilities and we have requested banks provide us with the lists of them. We are trying to manage funds for all factories, even those who are not members of the BGMEA," BGMEA President Rubana Huq said.
"We are in talks with commercial banks as well as Bangladesh Bank and are requesting funds for those who are in a cash crunch. Banks are trying and giving assurances they will provide funds. I am hopeful that we will be able to pay workers' wages by April 20," said Rubana.
"Over 19.20 lakh workers out of 24.72 lakh of 1,186 factories have been paid salaries. This is about 78 percent and we hope that it will be 80 percent by tomorrow [Thursday]," she added.
Police sources said the workers at Uttara Dakkhin Khan-based Decency Fashion Ltd, Redwan Garment Ltd, Sir Denim Ltd, APS Garment Ltd and Interco Fashion Ltd workers have received assurances from their respective factory owners that they will get their wages between 18 and 20 April.
Mostafizur Rahman, officer-in-charge of Mirpur Police Station, said, "Workers of various garment factories blocked Mirpur Road at Kalyanpur for more than one hour, demanding their due salaries. Later they were dispersed by police."
Workers at garment factories in Dhaka's Kafrul, Uttara and Badda also blocked roads to press home the same demand.
"Workers of Shahara Garments blocked the Badda road from 9 am to 10 am in the morning and later they were dispersed by police," said Officer-in-Charge of Badda Police Station Parvez Islam.
In Chattogram, workers of Padma Wears Ltd blocked the entrance to the Chattogram Export Processing Zone from 8 am to 10 am demanding last month's wages.
Later the industrial police brought the situation under control after talking to the owners.
"We managed to remove the workers after the factory owner assured the protesters that their dues would be paid on April 19," said Senior Assistant Police Super of Industrial Police Md Helal Uddin.
Md Obaidul Islam, a member of the factory's Shramik Kalyan Samiti, said, "The owners did not pay the wages though the government told them to pay by April 16."
"They told us that they will think about paying wages after April 19. The Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA) did not say anything regarding this," he added.
Meanwhile, the workers of 10 garments factories in Savar, Ashulia and Nabinagar areas demonstrated demanding wages and for an end to their terminations.
Workers of Alfa Clothing in Ashulia said, "We came to the factory to get our wages. The factory authority paid us but then terminated many of us – especially those who have been working for less than a year."
They blocked the Dhaka-Ashulia road, protesting the termination of many workers of this factory.
Jane Alam Khan, assistant superintendent of Industrial Police Unit-1, said, "We requested the factory authorities to stop worker terminations during this crisis."
Rafiqul Islam Sujon, president of Bangladesh Garments and Shilpa Sramik Federation, said more than 500 workers of Radiance Fashion, ZA apparels, Tajir Apparels, and Fashion Foran Limited staged demos demanding their wages.