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BGMEA's Statement on the Ashulia Incidents & its Aftermath

The recent incidents in Ashulia have raised concerns with national and international stakeholders.

The BGMEA, as the apex body of the garments sector of Bangladesh, has taken this situation very seriously.

In December the industrial zone in Ashulia, outside of Dhaka, was affected by illegal work stoppages, with no clear demands through the established enterprise grievance channels as laid down in sections 210 and 211 of Bangladesh Labour Law 2006.

These illegal acts by some employees and a minority of local union leaders are damaging to the reputation of Bangladesh and cast doubt on the great progress we have made in improving the occupational health and safety of our workers and communities.

The purpose of this statement is to share the facts on what happened at Ashulia, Dhaka, in December 2016 and its aftermath.

On 11th December the workers of “Windy Group” stopped work without placing any demands through the proper channels.

Over the following few days the illegal work stoppage spread over a number of other factories in that area.
On 14th December the Honorable State Minister for Labour & Employment and the Labour Secretary of the Government of Bangladesh met central labour leaders Mr. Amirul Haq Amin, President, National Garments Workers Federation (NGWF), Mr. Touhidur Rahman, President, Bangladesh Apparel Workers Federation, Mr. Babul Akhter, President, Bangladesh Garments & Industrial Workers Federation, Mrs. Nazma Akhter, President, Sommilitio Garments Sramik Federation, Mr. Salauddin Shwapon, President, Bangladesh Revolutionary Garments Workers Federation, Mr. M. Delwar Hossain, President, Janoshadhin Garments Sramik Federation, Mr. Abul Hossain, President, Textile Garments Workers Federation, Mr. Kutub Uddin Ahmed, President, Bangladesh Textile Garments & Leather Workers Federation, Mrs. Shamima Nasrin, President, Shadin Bangla Garments Sramik Federation, Mr. Bodruddoza Nizam, General Secretary, Garments Tailors Workers League, Mr. Md. Rashedul Alam Raju, Mrs. Lima Ferdous, President, Garments Workers Employees League, Mr. Md. Baharane Sultan Bahar, President, Jago Bangladesh Garments Sramik Federation, & Ms. Lovely Yasmin, President, Readymade Garments Workers Federation, at the Ministry. In that meeting, the worker representatives committed to restart work the following morning.

The situation further deteriorated on 15th December as workers of 30 factories in that area stopped working. At that time rumours were heard that house rents in the area would be increased from the New Year.

On 17th December, the Member of the Parliament for the Ashulia constituency and law enforcement agencies held a meeting with the house owners of Ashulia area and the local people. It was agreed that the house owners would not increase rent for the next three years and this message was conveyed in the locality.

On 18th December, the Honourable Shipping and Home Ministers and the Honourable State Minister of Labour again met with the labour leaders and several hundred workers at a community centre in Ashulia. It was again reiterated that the house rents would not be increased in the coming three years and workers were requested to resume work.

The situation kept deteriorating on the following day (19th December) with workers of about 40 factories abstaining from work. The Honourable Ministers of Commerce and Shipping and the Honourable State Minister of Labour sat in a meeting where BGMEA, BKMEA and the Bangladesh Employers Federation representatives joined. In that meeting the workers were requested to join work and the labour leaders Mr. Z.M. Kamrul Anam, President, Bangladesh Textile and Garments Workers League, Mr. Amirul Haq Amin, President, National Garments Workers Federation (NGWF), Mr. Touhidur Rahman, President, Bangladesh Apparel Workers Federation, Mr. Babul Akhter, President, Bangladesh Garments & Industrial Workers Federation, Mrs. Nazma Akhter, President, Sommilitio Garments Sramik Federation, Mr. Salauddin Shwapon, President, Bangladesh Revolutionary Garments Workers Federation, Mr. M. Delwar Hossain, President, Janoshadhin Garments Sramik Federation, Mr. Abul Hossain, President, Textile Garments Workers Federation, Mr. Kutub Uddin Ahmed, President, Bangladesh Textile Garments & Leather Workers Federation, Mrs. Shamima Nasrin, President, Shadin Bangla Garments Sramik Federation, Mr. Bodruddoza Nizam, General Secretary, Garments Tailors Workers League, Mr. Md. Rashedul Alam Raju, Mrs. Lima Ferdous, President, Garments Workers Employees League, Mr. Md. Baharane Sultan Bahar, President, Jago Bangladesh Garments Sramik Federation, & Ms. Lovely Yasmin, President, Readymade Garments Workers Federation, gave the same assurances of resuming work.

The situation worsened on 20th December (the 10th day of the strike) with workers of about 59 factories abstaining from work. More so the workers in those factories were entering into the building in the morning, swiping their ID cards to register their attendance, obligating employers to account for them as fully present, but soon afterwards leaving the premises.

However, in light of these events, in extremis and after exhausting all other avenues of dialogue, the affected factories had no choice but to declare their units closed as per Section 13(1) of Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 for an indefinite period of time with effect from 21st December 2016.

The closure of factories continued till 25th December.

During the period of closure, workers of the affected factories communicated with their management their desire for resuming full operations.  In coordination with the government authorities, the factories took the decision to restart from 26th December. The attendance rate of workers on the very first day of reopening was more than 95%, which is exceptional considering the fact that the factories were closed for several days; yet the workers had not gone back to their villages.

These incidents have resulted in severe economic and reputational damage for the sector. We estimate that the affected units have lost over $50 million in production and will incur a similar amount in discounts, air freights and lost business. We cannot put a value on the reputational damage at the international level for our sector.

We would like to reemphasize that the BGMEA is dedicated to the principle that no worker should be deprived from his or her constitutional rights.  At the same time, people have to respect the law of the land.

There is an established legal procedure to serve notice for a strike as outlined in Section 210 and 211 of Bangladesh Labour Act 2006, but in this case the procedure was not followed. While 8 of the affected factories had full-fledged registered unions, almost all the factories also had freely elected Worker Participation Committees, as prescribed in the BLA. In spite of these well-established mechanisms, there were incidents of harassment and intimidation by a very small minority of workers and their accomplices from the locality.

As a result of those events and to protect the livelihoods of the vast majority of innocent workers, some factories have reported the cases of vandalism and personal injury to the Ashulia Police. Among the nearly 200,000 workers of the affected factories, 1,420 were served with temporary suspension, pending investigation as per section 23(4) and 24 of BLA.

In the rules of BLA there is a prescribed procedure for such cases, which may take up to eight weeks, during which time; the workers have the right to a subsistence allowance. In almost all cases, the workers opted to resign and receive their full benefits, based on last salary and service length. This process was completed through negotiations and the signing of MOUs between unions representing workers of those factories and the employers; 1,395 workers were compensated through this mechanism.

The twenty-five workers, who have not yet received their settlement, have been notified of their benefits due by registered post to their current and permanent address.

BGMEA has communicated with the Factories that have filed criminal cases to request and ensure that no innocent bystanders are inadvertently included in the cases and to comply with the Bangladesh Labour Laws.
The law enforcement agencies have also arrested 9 labour leaders allegedly involved in instigating the general workers toward violent & illegal protests and forcing / intimidating them to abstain from work.

To the best of our knowledge 7 workers from 6 factories were arrested and all of them have gotten bail from the court.

Of the nine local union leaders who were arrested, all nine have gotten bail through the courts.

While we respect the right of factories to protect their innocent workers and their property from vandalism, we are also working together to reach amicable settlements, wherever possible.

As a trade body, we cannot influence legal issues or issue arbitrary notices to that effect; however we are fully supportive of the call for ensuring that the law is not misused by any parties.

The BGMEA is dedicated to dialogue and is always open and willing to discuss with the stakeholders on any issues related to maintaining the harmony of our sector and the amicability of our relations with our workers.

The BGMEA is committed to ensure the legitimate rights of the workers. On the behest of the Government the apparel industry has increased minimum wages by 219% in the last 6 years. For the first time an annual wage increment of 5% was made mandatory in 2013.

The Government has proactively taken a number of steps including amending the labour law in 2013 and passage of the Labour Rules in 2015. As per the Rules factories must have an elected Participation Committee and Safety Committee. The Government has also made festival bonus equivalent to two basic salaries per year mandatory.

Furthermore, a Workers Welfare Fund has been created for the export oriented industries where the apparel industry alone will contribute around 10 million dollars this year and which will grow with the growth of our exports.

This fund will be used for workers’ insurance, education, healthcare and other welfare activities.

We are already started a new five-year project, titled SDIR, with the ILO and the Government of Bangladesh, to promote social dialogue and harmonious industrial relations in the Bangladesh RMG sector; funded by the Governments of Sweden and Denmark.

The BGMEA wishes to reaffirm its commitment to maintaining a safe and sustainable working environment and to the central principle of harmonious labour relations; after all, without the workers we have no industry.

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