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Bangladesh: Unpaid Garment Workers Threaten Nationwide Strike

Unpaid garment workers engaged in an ongoing hunger strike in Dhaka, Bangladesh were dispersed Thursday as police forced them from the factory using rubber bullets, tear gas and water canons. But despite the disbandment, workers promised to resume their hunger strike elsewhere and threatened a nationwide strike should their demands for back pay not be met.

More than 1,500 workers from apparel manufacturer Tuba Group, which operates five factories including Tuba Fashion, Tuba Textile, Mita Design, Taif Design and Bughsan Garments, have been on a hunger strike since July 28 in protest against unpaid wages for May, June and July, plus holiday bonuses. Tuba needs an estimated 40 million taka ($516,000) to pay workers the wages owed.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA)  explained that as Tuba Group managing director Delwar Hossain–who also owns Tazreen Fashions Ltd where a factory fire claimed the lives of more than 100 workers in November 2012–remains in jail on charges related to that fire, they were not able to arrange money from the banks to pay the workers.

Earlier in the week, BGMEA offered workers two months worth of the back pay and said they would receive wages for the third month, plus bonuses for the Eid al-Fitr holiday later in the month. Despite more than 100 protesters already taking ill as a result of the protest, workers refused the offer and said they wouldn’t cease striking until they received all monies owed, according to the Dhaka Tribune.

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Although workers had demanded pay for all three months at once, some did collect their wages for May and June from the BGMEA Wednesday and Thursday, and the organization said it has so far disbursed arrears to roughly 1,350 workers.

Bangladesh State Minister of Labour Mujibul Haque Chunnu said workers would receive wages for July by this Sunday, Aug. 10. Speaking at press conference at the BGMEA offices in Dhaka Thursday, Chunnu said, “We have talked with the garment owners about the payment. We asked them to ensure the workers’ payment by any means,” the Dhaka Tribune reported.

The Tuba Group workers, mobilized by the Tuba Group Sramik Sangram Committee workers organization, have planned a nationwide strike at ready made garment factories across the country if they don’t receive their pay. Because the BGMEA has made empty promises before, workers are prepared for the potential protest.

Labor activist Moshrefa Mishu, who is convening the committee told Bangladesh News 24 following Thursday’s protest disbursement, “From now, a strike will go on for an indefinite period at all garment factories in Bangladesh.”