Traffic comes to halt in Bangladesh capital during workers protest

DHAKA, Nov. 5 — A large number of vehicles, including private vehicles carrying passengers to and from airport, proceeding to various parts of Bangladesh capital Dhaka were stranded for more than six hours when thousands of garment workers staged a road blockade Monday in protest against sudden closure of factory units, non-payment of wage arrears and other allowances. The workers of Topaz Garments Limited started the road agitation at around 8:00 a.m. (local time) outside their factory building in Dhaka’s downtown Badda area. Mohammad Tahrim Khan, an inspector of traffic, told Xinhua that “the workers at about 8:00 a.m. (local time) started to gather on the road, forcing to stop traffic movement.”

He said the traffic burden increased on other roads and citizens had no option but to move towards their destinations at a snail’s pace. Many private vehicles carrying passengers to Bangladesh’s main international airport were also seen stuck in the traffic jams. The Dhaka dwellers faced immense problems in reaching their destinations, as they had to use alternative routes, which also put extra load on those roads that further added to the traffic mess. Many remained stuck in jam for hours while others were seen walking with their luggage and children. “I need walk some time for another street from where I can hire a vehicle to reach the airport. I can’t sit in jam any more because I don’t have ample time in hands for my flights,” said a non-resident Bangladeshi (NRB) who is leaving Dhaka in the evening. The capital city’s traffic management authority seemed completely helpless in maintaining the flow of traffic until the blockade was lifted.

The workers of the factory withdrew the road blockade at about 2:00 p.m. (local time) following the assurance from the authorities to realize their demands, said another police official who preferred to be unnamed. He said the frustrated at the closure of the factory’s some units in which thousands of workers were employed took to the streets and blockade the road leading to the country’s main Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. The agitating workers said the factory units were closed all on a sudden. “When we come to work today (Monday) after Eid (Muslim religious festival) holidays we have been informed that the units in which we make jeans pants have been closed for an indefinite period,” said Mitu Akter, a factory worker. Another Asma, who uses single name, said “the owner is supposed to inform us about the closure at least three months earlier. But it closed the factory all on a sudden even without paying our salary arrears and other allowances.” Workers from other units of the factory also joined their agitating colleagues who occupied both sides of the road. Police fired tear gas shells to disperse the protesters from the area. The owner of the factor denied the allegations, saying some units of the factory were closed for some days for renovation.

“We ‘ve not closed the factory units for an indefinite period,” said a factory official who was reluctant to give his name. Dhaka, one of the mega cities of the world with about 15 million people, also witnessed traffic gridlock as workers of another Hallmark group also staged a protest program after apparel units of the little known group has been shutdown following arrest of its chief in connection with the country’s largest bank loan scam. Unrest mostly over wage issue in Bangladesh’s garment sector, which contributes more than two thirds of export earnings, is very common in the country. Hundreds of Bangladesh’s ready-made garment factories at a major industrial belt in Ashulia on the outskirts of capital Dhaka were closed in June this year following a labour unrest over wage hike. Four days afte the closure, the factories reopened as the government promised cheap food for the workers during a tripartite meeting of the government, the owners and the worker leaders. Kabir said additional police have been deployed in the Ashulia area, where there are about 350 factories employing nearly half a million workers, who make clothes for global retailers such as Wal- Mart, H&M and Gap.

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