Bangladesh PM threatens protesting textile workers
Earlier this month, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina issued a series of threats against garment workers, saying their protests for higher wages would lead to job losses. She also warned the Bangladeshi masses to prepare for further austerity measures as the international economic crisis increasingly impacts the country.
The Hasina government and the Bangladeshi garment makers it speaks on behalf of fear that the country’s 4.1 million workers in more than 3,500 garment factories will take unified action to demand higher wages. About 80% of Bangladesh’s export earnings come from supplying cheap ready-made garments to American and European retail giants.
Hasina made the provocative remarks at a June 7 gathering commemorating the 56th anniversary of the Awami League-led movement for greater East Pakistan autonomy in 1966, which culminated in the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.
According bdnews24Hasina said:[Garment factory workers] are protesting for a pay rise and many other demands. If exports stop, garment factories will close. We will lose everything… In this case, salaries will not increase, but they [the workers] losing their jobs and having to return home. What will they do then?
Foreign buyers were losing purchasing power, she continued, as “the situation is getting worse in the United States and Europe with rising prices. Lots of people skip meals there. Promoting nationalist exception, she claimed that Bangladeshis were “in a better position than them”.
Hasina’s statements were a response to growing unrest among low-wage garment workers over inflation and wages. Thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers have staged three separate protests since June 4 in several parts of Dhaka to demand a pay rise. Police loaded batons and fired tear gas canisters at protesters, injuring many workers. Among those involved in the protests were workers from Apex, MBM Garments Ltd, Saroj, VISION, IDS Group, Kolka, Jokky and Dmox factories.
Referring to escalating food prices, Saroj, a worker protester in Dhaka, told the media, “An egg costs 15 taka (16 US cents) now, but the factory owners are not increasing the salaries, I don’t know what to do”. Faysal from the Kolka factory asked, “How can a person manage” on a monthly salary of 8,000 taka ($94)?
On June 11, thousands of garment workers gathered in Dhaka, this time to protest against police attacks the previous week.
Bangladeshi garment workers are protesting, however, not just for wage increases. On April 14, around 100 garment workers from several factories in Ashulia demonstrated to demand long-awaited wages, the religious holiday bonus and full payment of their salaries. On April 16, fifty-nine workers at the Yong Jin International factory in Ashulia demonstrated against a 50% pay cut. Factory authorities slashed wages, saying workers ignored a directive not to wear the hijab or burqa while on the job for safety reasons.
During her speech, Hasina bragged that under her tenure, from 2008, wages for garment workers had increased several times, from 1,600 taka ($74) to between 8,000 and 10,000 taka. (US$94 and US$112) in 2018. Notwithstanding these claims, Bangladesh, according to Statistics website data, still has lower wages than Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia.
Garment workers have been involved in strikes and protests since 2016 demanding that their below-poverty wages be raised to a minimum of 16,000 taka. This was refused by the then Labor Minister, Mujibul Haque, who, with the support of the unions, imposed a minimum wage of 8,000 taka, which is barely enough for basic needs, including food and rent in slums lacking basic amenities.
Hasina’s June 7 speech is clear: Garment workers must bear the brunt of rising inflation in order to maintain cheap garment exports and the massive profits of Bangladeshi companies and global retail giants by retail. Hasina and previous Bangladeshi governments have also allowed garment manufacturers to maximize their profits with criminal violations of basic industrial safety, resulting in the death and injury of thousands of workers in industrial accidents.
Speaking on behalf of garment exporters, Hasina complained that shipping costs had tripled, adding, “People’s purchasing power [in the USA and Europe] declines in export markets for Bangladeshi garments… [W]We will lose everything if anyone disturbs the peace.
In a clear indication that the government will step up its police attacks on protesting garment workers, Hasina called on the authorities to find out who was “inciting the labor leaders” and claimed, “there have been efforts to overthrow our government. ”
However, it seems that the recent protests by garment workers have erupted spontaneously. According to a new age June 6 report, union leaders said they were not behind the protests and did not know who initiated them.
In fact, the unions have aligned themselves with the owners of garment factories. A Trade standard A June 6 report said that “some of the factory owners and union leaders smell a conspiracy behind the sudden social unrest demanding a pay rise.”
In an attempt to contain garment workers’ anger over low wages, the Stalinist Communist Party-controlled Bangladesh Garment Workers’ Union Center and Bangladesh Garment Sramik Samhati are calling on the Hasina government to set up a wage commission and raise the wage rate. monthly minimum wage. at 20,000 taka.
These unions, which backed the Hasina government’s meager monthly minimum wage in 2018, are seeking to divert workers into lengthy state-sponsored talks to strike another rotten deal with the government and betray workers’ demands.
Hasina’s speech, however, was not only directed against garment workers, but against other sections of the working class and the poor. “High inflation and rising commodity prices around the world due to the Russian-Ukrainian war and the COVID-19 pandemic” meant that Bangladeshis would face austerity measures.
“We all need to be frugal. Care will have to be taken to control food waste,” she said.“Yes, it is true that the prices of goods have increased to some extent… We have rather managed to control them, at least to some extent. We have done our best.
Although Bangladesh’s average inflation rate has remained steady at around 5.5% for the past five years, the year-on-year rate jumped to 5.86% in January and 6.29 % in April, indicating that it will continue to increase throughout the year.
This month’s protests for higher wages for Bangladeshi garment workers are part of a growing labor movement in Asia and elsewhere. In Pondicherry, India, workers at the state-run Swadeshi and Bharathi textile factories demonstrated on May 17 against government plans to close them. In Tamil Nadu, workers in the Karur textile units went on strike on May 16 and 17 to demand that the government control the rising prices of cotton and cotton yarn.