Bangladesh releases two garment union leaders


DHAKA — Bangladesh has released on bail two union leaders who were arrested during garment worker demonstrations, a prison official said Saturday, following appeals by US labour groups.

Kalpona Akter and Babul Ahkter, leaders of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, were arrested on August 12 during demonstrations over pay.

“They were granted bail and have been released,” central jail superintendent Touhibul Islam told AFP.

Their release came after the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO), the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) and other US-based labour groups urged the government “to immediately release the labour rights advocates and drop unsubstantiated charges against them”.

The two top officials of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity were accused of inciting unrest after thousands of garment workers took to the streets of the capital Dhaka to demand higher wages.

The workers involved in the protests, which spread rapidly through the country’s major manufacturing hubs in July and August, stitch clothes for top Western brands.

In July, the government raised the minimum monthly wage to 3,000 taka (43 dollars) from 1,662 taka, but the move fell short of the 5,000 taka demanded, provoking the mass worker unrest.

The government has launched a major crackdown on union leaders, including filing criminal cases against dozens of them. Many have since gone into hiding.

New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch has condemned the crackdown, saying arrests, intimidation and a “harsh rhetorical campaign against the protesters” have been used to prevent further unrest.

Garments account for 80 percent of impoverished Bangladesh’s annual exports.

The country’s 4,500 garment factories employ some three million workers, around 40 percent of its industrial workforce.

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