Nearly 100 garment factories in Ashulia industrial belt suspended production Monday fearing large scale violence following demonstration by thousands of apparel workers over better wages, manufacturers and police said.
Garment manufacturers being worried by the situation sat on an emergency meeting with the Labour and Employment minister at his secretariat office in the afternoon to find a way out.
In the emergency meeting, it was decided that the closed garment factories will resume production today (Tuesday) as the labour minister assured the owners of providing necessary security to the units.
The meeting also instructed law enforcers concerned to take action so that the demonstrators can not hamper production of other factories.
State minister for home affairs, BGMEA leaders, FBCCI president and garment union leaders of Ashulia were present at the meeting.
The latest labour unrest is a matter of major concern for the apparel producers who are already in pressure from foreign buyers over labour-related issues.
Witnesses said the trouble began about 8:30am when nearly 5000 workers of Artistic Design Limited, a packaging factory of Ha-Meem Group located at Narasinghapur, went on a work abstention in the morning and started an agitation in front of the factory, demanding salary hike.
The law and order situation in the highly sensitive apparel industrial hub turned volatile after several thousands of workers from nearby factories joined the protest.
The violence spread over five kilometres area stretching from Zirabo to Baipail when traffic movements halted on the busy Dhaka-Tangail Highway.
The protestors demanded immediate measures to further increase their monthly salary, considering the spiraling price of essential commodities as well as significant increase in house rent.
They clashed with law enforcers on several occasions when police tried to remove them from the highway that links northern districts of the country with the capital.
Police charged batons and lobbed teargas shells to disperse the demonstrators. Workers also responded the police action through pelting brick bats and stones that turned the area into a veritable battlefield.
At least 25 people, including workers, were injured in the sporadic clashes.
A number of vehicles were also damaged during the violence, causing worries to the Dhaka-bound passengers as they had to wait there for hours to cross the area.
The protestors have warned the garment owners of launching a vigorous movement unless another wage-structure, which will ensure their survival, is declared immediately.
“I get Tk 4500 a month. Of the amount, I have to pay Tk 1600 to landlord as house rent. So, how can I survive with the earning,” a protestor having a family of four members told the FE.
He said the garment makers should realise it and declare such hike to maintain smooth production at each unit. “Otherwise, it can not be stopped,” he added.
Confirming the incident, Director of Industrial Police-1 Golam Roufe Khan told the FE that the garment workers have been demanding immediate measures to increase their salaries.
He said most of the apparel units in the industrial zone have been shut for the day due to the trouble. “The factory owners should pay special attention to the demand to stem such violence that frequently hampered production,” he observed.
“But we don’t allow any violence at one of the country’s sensitive apparel industrial areas. Security has also been stepped up to avert any further chaos,” he said.
He also added that traffic movement was resumed after 12:45pm.
Abdus Salam Murshedy, Managing Director of Envoy Group located at Jamgora, said the labour unrest caused suspension of his factory’s production for the day.
“It’s not a good sign for the readymade garment (RMG) sector as the industry is already in pressure from international buyers over the death of labour union activist Aminul Islam,” he said.
He said the country’s highest foreign currency earning sector will lose its competitiveness in the global arena if such unwanted incident happens frequently.
About wage hike, he said the government had implemented the latest salary-structure two years back in 2010 by making 80 per cent hike from the earlier one.
According to Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), at least 100 garment units in Ashulia suspended production due to the unrest.