Korean factory locks out 8,500 workers

December 10, 2010

The management of Hi-Tech Sportswear Ltd, a garment unit of Korean Youngone Corp, yesterday announced an indefinite closure of its Dhaka-area factory after a wildcat strike spread among senior workers this week.

Most of the company’s 8,500 workers in the Dhaka Export Processing Zone (DEPZ) walked out four days ago, demanding reinstatement of a “temporary” Tk 250 allowance for food inflation that management stopped giving out when it began paying the new minimum wage.

They also wanted their monthly salary under the November 1 minimum wage rates, to be boosted to reflect the same percentage of increase as those of the lower-paid workers.

The minimum pay set by the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authorities raised the pay of the most junior workers by more than the rest. About nine in ten of the unit’s workers are above junior grade, according to a factory pattern maker, who requested anonymity.

The workers claim that many of the factories in the area voluntarily increased the wages of the senior workers by the same proportion as was required for the junior workers by the new minimum wage.

“Some factories inside the DEPZ have already increased the salary equally for all levels of workers to avert any untoward incident,” he said.

Abdur Rashid, an inspector of Ashulia Police Station who visited the factory, confirmed the closure over the last four days, saying that the management posted a notice to that defect on the factory gate at 10pm Wednesday night.

The workers came to the factory yesterday morning, but returned peacefully, the inspector said. “They did not make any unrest.”

A senior company official, requesting anonymity, admitted that the management’s axing of the food-inflation allowance, causing the workers to draw less than their anticipated pay, sparked the dispute.

He said the allowance was a temporary measure that was introduced when the prices of commodities went up and the measure had been in place for about a year and a half.

The claw-back of the allowance took place the same day the workers received the higher minimum wage, December 5.

The workers are now demanding a meeting with the chairman of the corporation Kihak Sung, who is in Korea, said the official.

“We are continuing negotiations with the workers to motivate them to rejoin in the workplace, but they remain fixed in their decision, as they are determined to talk with the chairman.”

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