AMSTERDAM – Violence against protesting garment workers in Bangladesh has been condemned by Clean Clothes Campaign which claims the government continues to show a lack of respect for essential worker freedoms. Thousands of workers in Bangladesh have taken to the streets since the recent implementation of the wage revision in the garment sector. Last week when police in Dhaka fired rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd, one worker was killed and many others injured. “Clean Clothes Campaign strongly condemns the violence limiting workers’ right to demonstrate. We call upon the government to stop the violence and intimidation of workers and unionists and to cease disregarding workers’ demands,” said Ineke Zeldenrust from Clean Clothes Campaign.
Placing the protests into context, CCC claims they are taking place against the background of the unresolved Ashulia crisis of 2016 and a “generally dire situation for freedom of association in the country.” In 2016, wage protests in Ashulia led to a week-long shutdown of dozens of factories, over 1,500 workers being sacked, about 30 workers and union leaders being arrested and roughly 50 union leaders going into hiding, according to the CCC.
“Many union representatives still have outstanding charges against them, which leaves them at constant risk of arrest,“ said the CCC in a statement. “The Bangladeshi government ignored calls for a wage increase in 2016. During last year’s lengthy wage revision process the government failed to take into account the unified workers’ demand for 16,000 taka. The new minimum wage for the lowest skilled workers amounted to only half of that: 8,000 taka. For the majority of the workforce the new revisions hardly raised the base wage at all. At the same time, factories are taking measures against workers to mitigate the effect of the presumed wage increase.”
The CCC claims that while the government of Bangladesh has repeatedly made international commitments to improve the situation for worker organizing in the country, “recent amendments to the law do little to address national and international concerns. Freedom of association remains severely curtailed, which hampers expression of worker interests.”
The Bangladesh High Court is also set to decide on the future of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety’s operations in the country, which is clearly adding to a heightened tension in the country.