Jobs Taken, Benefits Too | The Daily Star
After the Dragon Pullers factory in Dhaka closed due to last year’s pandemic, former garment worker Abdul Kuddus had to give up his rights to half of his severance pay.
It had been nine months since he had earned a salary, nine months since he had been fired – so something was better than nothing.
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“Our factory closed on March 26, 2020 when the closure was announced, but unlike other factories that opened in April, ours never opened. When we tried to join in, they told us the factory was closed until further notice, “Kuddus says.
However, he and his colleagues were not fired – a process that legally involves paying severance pay to workers and handing over their contingency funds.
After nine months of protests, physical sit-ins and continued occupation of the Sromo Bhaban parking lot, at the end of last December, workers settled for some of the money legally owed to them. Even then, many workers still have not received these contributions.
Under Bangladesh labor law, employers have the right to stop working and fire workers in the event of an epidemic (or pandemic, in this case), but workers must be provided with a service. This lump sum consists of 30 days’ wages for each of the worker’s years of service and is in addition to the contingency funds accumulated by the workers.
“Sitting in the ministry, we were forced to write a new contract stating that instead of 30 days of salary, we would receive 15 days of money. [for every year] and the money that was taken from our salary each month for the contingency fund, ”Kuddus said.
“We had no choice. The workers were in dire need of money, any money.”
This arrangement concerned only the 89 workers of the enterprise who reported to the wages commission established by the government. The Garment Workers Trade Union Center (GWTUC), the union that negotiated the settlement, said that according to the contract established the 269 “piece-rate” workers – who are paid according to their production – would not get any. service delivery. no more than 75 staff members who only received their contingency funds.
“The workers had to give up some things and the owner had to relax his position too; the contract was made mutually. The government cannot oppose when there is mutual understanding,” said Deputy Inspector General AKM Salahuddin from the Factory and Establishment Inspection Department (DIFE), Dhaka, who attended the meeting.
Meanwhile, four payment dates have come and gone, but Kuddus – who was at the forefront of all workers’ negotiations – still got nothing, even though he had worked in the factory for 18 years.
“I did not even receive the money taken from my monthly salary as a contingency fund. I have now filed a complaint with the labor court,” Kuddus said.
According to the calculations of the case, the factory owes him 7.4 lakh Tk, a third of which is money he himself saved from his salary as a provident fund. To date, 25 other workers have also filed complaints with the labor court for theft of wages.
Even the workers who received the money claim to have been woefully underpaid.
For example, worker Romesa, who said she joined the factory in 1997, only got 28,000 Tk.
“I used to deposit Tk 200 of my Tk 8,600 salary every month, so shouldn’t it be more?” she asked.
She got less than half of her own savings for 23 years of service and Romesa didn’t even know that the factory also owed her 15 days’ pay for each of those years as negotiated.
A report released two weeks ago by the Washington-based workers’ rights organization, Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), titled “Fired then Robbed,” calculated that Dragon Pullers still owed its workers $ 133,200.
PLANTS NOT COMPLYING WITH COMPENSATION LAWS
Between October and November 2020, the Center for Policy Dialogue surveyed 610 factories – ranging from small to large – and found that 96.4% of factories did not comply with compensation laws when workers were laid off – essentially committing a salary theft. CPD published these results earlier this year.
The organization found that the larger the plant, the less likely it was to pay severance pay to its laid-off workers.
About half of the surveyed sample included medium-sized (500 to 2,500 workers) and large (over 2,500 workers) factories.
The study found that 84 percent of the surveyed mid-size factories and all large factories paid their workers only their wages, but not overdue arrears or any compensation as required by law.
Of the 2,562,383 workers in the factories studied, 357,450 lost their jobs between January and September 2020, or about 14% of total jobs.
“Almost 60 percent of factories (364 out of 610) have laid off their workers. Other factories have laid off workers or their number of workers has not changed, ”said Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director of CPD.
The majority of factories did not follow the layoff and dismissal rules, the organization also found.
“In accordance with DIFE instructions, factories were not allowed to fire or fire workers if they received subsidized credit support as part of the stimulus package. However, most factories did not comply with this instruction. “said Moazzem.
BRANDS RECORD PROFITS, WORKERS FACED WITH WAGE THEFT
In the second half of 2020, 16 international clothing brands recorded profits of $ 10 billion, while around 10,000 workers who make clothing for these brands around the world were victims of wage theft.
Business & Human Rights Resource Center, an organization that works to identify abuse in businesses and businesses, recently found this in a study.
“A year after the start of the pandemic, garment workers who produce for big fashion brands owe months of unpaid wages, benefits and severance pay while most brands record large profits,” reads the report titled “Wage Theft and Pandemic Profits: Garment Workers’ Right to a Living Wage”.
Clothing brands they investigated included Carter’s Inc, Hanesbrands, H&M, Levi Strauss & Co, Lidl, L Brands, Matalan, Mark’s, Next, New Look, Nike, PVH, River Island, Sainsbury’s, s.Oliver and The Children’s Place.
Lidl is also one of the brands using Dragon Pullers as a supplier, as are the New Yorker and Woolworths, GWTUC said.
The Bangladeshi factory the study team focused on was Stylecraft Ltd in Gazipur – its buyers include H&M, Next, New Look and River Island.
The report said: “On December 25, 2020, around 3,000 to 4,000 garment workers staged a demonstration to protest against Stylecraft’s unpaid wages and benefits.
“The protesting workers were claiming 35 percent of their wages and arrears for September and October, full wages for November, overtime and other allowances due.”
Stylecraft chief executive Shams Almas Rahman said they had agreed on the payments to be made after negotiations with the workers.
“They have also agreed to a payment schedule for these payments. We will pay their wages over the next few months,” he said.
Up to $ 5.17 million in orders have been canceled or postponed by various international brands of Stylecraft during the pandemic.
“They told us that with the ongoing pandemic, they couldn’t be sure that customers were visiting their stores, and they told us they would take orders later. There were some instances where buyers were placing orders. orders and I was buying the raw materials, but then all of a sudden the orders were canceled, ”said Shams, who chose not to disclose the number of canceled buyers.
In their responses to the study team, the brands said they engage with the supplier to ensure payment of wages owed.
“Full wages for December and January have now been paid and 17.5 percent of unpaid wages for September and October will be paid over the next few months, well below the 35 percent demanded by workers,” the report said.
The report also states that while at least two-thirds of the 16 brands and retailers surveyed are making profits again after the initial disruption caused by the pandemic, “However, appallingly, more than a third have yet to commit. to pay for all orders. “
“Even an employer who does not wish to cheat workers about severance pay can be placed by marks in the position of not being able to avoid doing so,” the WRC report said.
Workers at A- (One) BD Ltd, for example, have yet to receive a taka, a year after being made redundant. A total of 1,100 workers were left unemployed overnight when the factory, located in the Savar export processing zone, closed on March 26, 2020.
WRC, along with several employees interviewed by The Daily Star, identified Benetton and Next as the brands sourcing from the factory at the time of the shutdown. The WRC estimated that a total of $ 585,200 is still owed to workers in its “Fired then brabed” report.
The factory went into the red after buyers canceled orders and its Italian shareholder Alessandro Ferro left the country.
“We learned that the factory had experienced financial difficulties because their orders had stopped arriving due to the pandemic,” said the general manager (public relations) of BEPZA Nazma Binte Alamgir.
“The Italian Ambassador told us to let Ferro go so that he could return to Italy and look for business for his factory. He assured us that this was a real case of bankruptcy, and that the factory is in its current situation because it is not. receive orders. “
According to a count kept by Bangladesh Garment Workers’ Solidarity, workers were given 22 dates to collect their arrears, but each date came and went with broken promises.
“We are considering auctioning off the plant and its assets to reimburse the workers, but this has not yet been done. We will pay the workers their dues, once this is completed,” Nazma added.
Workers visited BEPZA as recently as February hoping to get money, but were told they wouldn’t get anything until the factory was sold.
“How can I wait so long for the money? I am unemployed and haven’t found a job for a year,” said Md Abdur Razzak, a former factory worker.
“I survived by selling the furniture in my house, but now I have nothing to sell.”