5 – No guarantee of rights
The ITUC Global Rights Index


The ITUC affiliates in Bangladesh are the Bangladesh Free Trade Union Congress (BFTUC), the Bangladesh Jatyatabadi Sramik Dal (BJSD), the Bangladesh Labour Federation (BLF), the Bangladesh Mukto Sramik Federation (BMSF), the Bangladesh Sanjukta Sramik Federation (BSSF) and the Jatio Sramik League (JSL).

Bangladesh ratified Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948) in 1972 and Convention No. 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949) in 1972.

In practice

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Protesting garment workers injured in clashes with the police01-02-2022

At least ten employees of Tivoli Apparels Ltd were injured when they clashed with police during a protest on 1 February 2022.
The dispute began on 29 January after a male production manager harassed a woman worker. Her colleagues went on strike in protest, calling for the dismissal of the production manager. They also used the opportunity to set out a list of 12 demands.
Their protest continued for two days, but then, when workers arrived at the factory on 1 February, they found a notice on the gates announcing its indefinite closure. Angry employees called on workers in the neighbouring factories to join their protest.
In response, the factory’s owners called the police. Police fired at least ten rounds of sound grenades, 30 rounds of shotgun shells and six rounds of tear gas to disperse the workers, according to Gazipur Metropolitan Police (GMP) deputy commissioner Mohammad. They claimed it was necessary, as apparently some of the angry workers were throwing stones.
The injured workers were named as Shahinur Akhter, 18; Nur Mohammad, 25; Taslima, 26; Zia, 25; Monirul, 24; Safina Akhter, 18; Mukti Akhter, 32; and Kamal, 23. They were admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital and the Tongi Shaheed Ahsanullah Master General Hospital. Five police officers were also reported injured.
The owner of Tivoli Apparels agreed to dismiss the production manager but did not want to negotiate the demands, which he considered “unreasonable”.

Police in Bangladesh obstruct union activities24-09-2021

Bangladeshi police repeatedly banned union meetings and then physically stopped participants from joining a meeting where a regional committee of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC) was to be formed.
The IBC is the coordinating body of Bangladeshi affiliates of the global union IndustriALL. On 24 September 2021, a meeting was planned to take place in the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF) office in Chattogram to form a regional committee. However, a phone call from the police to IBC’s senior vice president, Salauddin Shapon, put a stop to that.
Another meeting was planned to be held in a different area the following day. But again, the police contacted the vice president to say the meeting could not take place there either.
In a third attempt, the IBC decided to hold the meeting at the office of another affiliate, the Bangladesh Textile & Garment Workers League (BTGWL). When IBC leaders arrived, police officers, including some in plain clothes, blocked the gate and did not allow anyone to enter.
In a letter to Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, IndustriALL strongly condemned the police interference as a violation of the most basic of workers’ rights and international standards.

Criminal cases filed against 25 trade union members in retaliation for establishing a union06-08-2021

On 6 August 2021, the Bangladeshi Industrial Police filed a criminal case against Babul Akter, general secretary of Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), and 24 union leaders and members in relation to incidents at Crossline Factory Pvt Ltd and Crossline Knit Fabrics Ltd. The factory management also filed a criminal case against its workers. These criminal complaints were filed after the factory workers formed two unions in their respective factories and filled registration applications with the Department of Labour in March 2021. The allegations against Mr Akter are only meant to harass him for his role in assisting the workers to form unions in the two factories.

Garment worker killed and many injured in protest at Bangladesh EPZ13-06-2021

A woman garment worker was killed and many were injured on 13 June 2021 following a police crackdown on protesting workers from Lenny Fashions and Lenny Apparels in the Dhaka export processing zone (DEPZ), Ashulia. The workers were demanding their wages after the closure of the factory.
Jesmin Begum (32), a garment worker who worked for Lenny Fashions, suffered fatal injuries after she hit an iron pole while running away from the site of the protest as police violently dispersed the demonstrators. Many workers were injured when police fired rubber bullets, threw tear-gas shells, used water cannons and baton-charged protesting workers at Dhaka-Tangail Highway at DEPZ, Ashulia.
Over 6,000 workers lost their jobs when Lenny Fashion and Lenny Apparels, a subsidiary of the Hong Kong-based Must Garment, closed on 20 January 2021. Management said it would pay unpaid wages by May, but the company never fulfilled its commitment. The frustrated workers gathered at the Nabinagar-Chandra highway outside the EPZ on 13 June to demand payment. When the workers refused to move from the road after two hours, the police began using their tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse them.

Garment workers shot demanding extended Eid holidays10-05-2021

On 10 May, around 20 garment workers at the Ha-meem group, supplying garments for, among others, H&M, Gap and Zara, suffered injuries from rubber bullets during a demonstration demanding an extension of Eid holidays from three to at least the usual ten days.
Extended holidays for garment workers have been a tradition in Bangladesh, and workers spend the festival time with family and friends. The government had announced three days for Eid holidays this year, but IndustriALL Bangladesh Council reached an agreement with the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) to jointly call on employers to announce a minimum of five to ten days.
When the Ha-meem group of factories announced just three days of holidays, a spontaneous protest at the Creative Collection factory in the Gazipur district erupted.

A large number of police met the protestors with tear gas and rubber bullets. At least 22 workers were injured by the pellets, some suffering over 50 projectile injuries.
Only after the violent response to the workers did the company extend the Eid holidays.

Five killed as police fire at protesting workers in Bangladesh17-04-2021

At least five people were killed and dozens injured in Bangladesh on 17 April 2021 after police opened fire on a crowd of workers protesting to demand unpaid wages and a pay rise at the Chinese-backed SS Power Plant, officials and police said.
Police opened fire after about 2,000 of the protesters began hurling stones at officers at the construction site of the coal-fired plant in the southeastern city of Chittogram. Four protesters died at the scene and another died in hospital.
Several of the injured workers had gunshot wounds and were taken to a hospital. The five who died had all been shot. They were named as Rony of Chuadanga; Md Rahad of Kishoreganj; Shuvo of Narsingdi; Mahmud Reza of Banshkhali; and Raihan (18), a crane operator, of Noakhali.
An eyewitness, Miran Hossain Rockey, cousin of the deceased crane operator Raihan, also a crane operator at the site, explained to the press that the demonstration had begun the day before. On the Saturday morning the police told the workers to return to work, as the authorities had approved their demands. The workers did not believe them. A few minutes later, said Miran, police officers returned and started firing blank shots. Later, the protestors started pelting stones, and police responded by firing indiscriminately.
“My cousin just came out of his room to see what was happening when two bullets hit his left thigh,” said Miran. “I rescued him and took him to two local hospitals in Banshkhali, but they refused to admit him. He succumbed to his injures."

Persecution of union leaders at steel works01-01-2021

In 2021, the Janata Steel Workers’ Union president and secretary were arrested on a charge of theft. They and fellow workers were defended by union leader Mohammad Ali, who had experienced anti-union tactics first hand. He had been dismissed from his own job in 2016 for attempting to form a union but eventually succeeded in very difficult circumstances. The authorities turned their attention to him when he took up the steelworkers’ case, and he found the police surrounding his house. Mohammed was also contacted by the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) who asked him to meet with the owner’s association. It became clear to him that he was being targeted for his defence of the workers, but he was able to contact honest representatives of the association who helped him. In the meantime, the officer in charge of the Sitakunda police station was transferred and Mohammed no longer had to hide from the police. He succeeded in getting the arrested workers out on bail.

Dragon Group workers assaulted by company thugs13-10-2020

Since March 2020, thousands of textile workers of the factories Dragon Sweater and Imperial Sweater (producing for retailers such as New Yorker, Lidl and Walmart and both belonging to Dragon Group) have been fighting for wages and severance pay owed to them. On 4 October, workers rallied to form a human chain as a way of protest nearby the factories. While doing so, the workers were attacked by men, most likely hired by the factory owners to intimidate the workers. Witnesses recognised some of the attackers, as they are familiar with the owner’s security staff. These hired security staff often observe the rallies held by the workers, but for the first time they also physically attacked them. In the end, 12 workers had to be treated at Dhaka Medical College Hospital. In reaction, hundreds of textile workers came together for a torch procession in the evening.
At night the GWTUC went to Hatir Jheel police station to file a complaint about the incident. The officer in charge refused to accept the complaint. Demonstrations against the police indifference and a counter complaint filed by factory owners are ongoing.

Union activists reinstated at Tanzila textile, Bangladesh09-09-2020

After several months of negotiations, the Bangladesh Garment, Textile and Leather Workers’ Federation (BGTLWF) has reached an agreement with Tanzilla Textile and the BGMEA to reinstate 12 workers who were fired in January 2020 for their participation in union activities.
Tanzila Textile fired the workers as they attempted to file for union registration. Those affected include the president, general secretary, and executive body members of the proposed union.
The workers reached out to BGTLWF for help. Following a series of meetings involving IndustriALL, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and brands supplying from Tanzila textile, an agreement was signed on 5 September 2020 to reinstate all 12 workers.
Eight of the fired workers have returned work with others expected to join soon. All workers resuming their services are to be paid wages and benefits equal to those of the other workers. The reinstated workers will also be paid for the time they were not working due to the company’s action.
The employer committed to not take any action against the workers, and the union agreed to withdraw their legal complaint against the employer.
Tanzila textile is one of the leading garment and textile manufacturers in Dhaka, employing around 1,550 workers and supplying to, among others, Next, NKD, Li & Fung, Cotton On and ICA.

Violent crackdowns on strikes and retaliation against workers in the garment sector25-07-2020

On 25 July 2020, the police violently attacked garment workers who were protesting unpaid wages and allowances. As a result of the attack, 12 workers were injured. This took place in Dhaka when thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers from Viyellatex and Shofi Tex blocked the Dhaka-Mymensingh Highway to demand wages for July, festival allowances and a 12-day festival holiday. Police using batons, gunshots, tear gas and sound grenades violently attacked the protesters.

34 Bangladeshi shipbreaking workers reinstated08-07-2020

On 6 July, 17 cutter workers, together with 17 cutter helpers, were told without prior warning by the employer to not come back to the M/S Motalab Steel shipbreaking yard, due to a lack of work. However, there was a ship in the yard, but it would take at least six days before cutting could start, and management tried to avoid paying the daily attendance allowance mandated by law for those six days.
Workers opposed the decision and sought the intervention of Bangladesh Metal, Chemical, Garments, & Tailors Workers Federation (BMCGTWF). The BMCGTWF announced it would initiate a protest, legal procedures and seek help from the government to resolve the issue.
All affected workers gathered in front of the yard gate, and faced with the collective action, management agreed to pay the 34 workers’ daily attendance allowance, as well as allowing them back in the yard.
As of 8 July, all sacked 34 shipbreaking workers had gone back to work.

Anti-union dismissals and union-busting during the pandemic01-07-2020

In the current context of pandemic, the Bangladesh Garment Workers and Industrial Federation (BGWIF) report trade union repression in a third of the factories where their union operates. Without union leaders on the factory floor, remaining workers are more vulnerable to exploitation and have little leverage to demand fair wage payment and decent working conditions if they are unable to organise collectively. The combination of massive job losses and the purging of union activists could lead to worsening conditions for employees, including forced labour.
In June 2020, 3,000 garment workers were reportedly dismissed as part of a union busting exercise from three factories owned by the same company: SAYBOLT TEX, Tanaz Fashion and Windy Wet & Dry Process factories in Gazipur and Dhaka, Bangladesh. The three unionised factories are owned by the Windy Group (which owns an additional five non-unionised factories), and according to media reports, they are part of the supply chain to H&M and Inditex. According to unions, 1,600 workers were fired from SAYBOLT TEX, 1,200 from Tanaz Fashion and 200 from Windy Wet & Dry Process. The unions for Windy Group workers claim that each time workers from the three factories have attempted to form unions, they have been dismissed. The dismissed workers have been staging hunger strikes and other protests at Windy Group factory premises to call for reinstatement.

Multiple violations of trade union rights confirmed by ITUC mission to Bangladesh15-01-2020

The ITUC and ITUC-AP mission to Bangladesh on 15 and 16 January 2020 confirmed that trade union rights violations are still systematic in Bangladesh. Garment federations reported levelled-up surveillance by a newly formed unit under the Department of National Security (NSI) to monitor their activities. Since September 2019, the offices and staff of the federations, their affiliates and partner organisations have been visited by officers of the new unit, the industrial police and the local administration to scrutinise their activities, members’ participation, as well as their budget and pending labour cases. A garment federation reported at least 175 trade union leaders and active members have been blacklisted by the employers and 26 of them are facing criminal and civil charges. Little improvements have been made on trade union registration, which is based on arbitrary requirements made by the local authorities, slow and lacks transparency. 
Workers in the civil and public sector are unable to form trade unions. The high court handed down a decision in 2019 to approve the dismissal of eighty rural electrification workers who were sacked for trying to form a trade union. The federation, PBSKL, is appealing to the Supreme Court against the decision. Under the Rural Electrification Board Ordinance, workers are unable to exercise their rights to organise and bargain collectively. 

Government to deprive EPZ workers of basic protections under Bangladesh labour law26-09-2019

On 26 September 2019 the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statutory order stating that henceforward the rights of workers in the country’s export processing zones (EPZs) would be governed by the Bangladesh EPZ Labour Act, 2019, and not by Bangladesh labour law. Labour leaders in the country objected to having two separate systems for the country’s workers and warned that the new law, introduced in February 2019, was contrary to workers’ fundamental rights, notably freedom of association, and the right to form or join a union. The amendments continue to deny EPZ workers the right to form or join a union, and to bargain collectively or to strike, and are expected to bring little change to improve labour inspection, which continues to require the permission of the Executive Director of BEPZA for workplace access.

Police baton charge and injure protesting garment workers15-09-2019

At least 20 workers were injured when a clash broke out on 15 September 2019 between garment factory workers and police in Narayanganj. The Sinha-Opex Garments factory workers were protesting at the non-payment of salaries and allowances and the sacking of workers over the last three months without prior notice. 
The protesting workers were blocking a highway, and in an attempt to disperse them, more than 50 teargas shells were fired along with a few rounds of rubber bullets. The police also baton-charged them.

Mass dismissal of workers seeking to form a union at a clothing company18-08-2019

SF Denim Apparels had consistently been obstructing efforts to organise and form a union at its factory in Dhaka. When workers sought to form a branch of the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF), the company fired more than a hundred of them in 2018. Thirty-eight of the workers launched court cases against the employer. Meanwhile, other workers continued their organising efforts, resulting in five more lay-offs in early August 2019. 
Then, without warning, as workers returned to the factory after the Eid holiday on 18 August, SF Denim Apparels fired 701 workers, claiming a “work order shortage”. But as Nazma Akter the SGSF president commented, “the workers are obviously targeted over their involvement in union activities.”

Women deterred from union involvement, report shows18-05-2019

A report launched on 18 May by the Bangladesh Shrama Institute on “Barriers to Women’s Participation in Trade Unions and Labour Organisations” found that while huge numbers of women worked in the garment sector, few chose to get involved in the trade union movement. It found that women workers faced harassment by the administration, in legal procedures and socially, which prevented thousands of them from getting involved in the union movement.

Union members attacked at Perfetti Van Melle factory09-04-2019

On 9 April 2019, thugs hired by a labour contractor at Netherlands-based global confectioner Perfetti Van Melle’s factory in Gazipur, Bangladesh, launched an organised attack on union members in their workplace. Management stood by as over 20 attackers entered the factory and sought out, beat and intimidated union members with bats and wooden sticks. 
The union escorted 15 women workers on duty to safety while the thugs roamed the factory. Management failed to alert police or report the attack. 
The union’s president Kamrul Hasan Palash said local management had opposed the formation of a union for the factory’s 250 permanent workers. “After we formed the union, we applied to the ministry to get it registered as per the law,” he said. “When the management came to know about this, they did not allow me and four others to enter the factory for five days. I was threatened.” 
It took five months for the union to win legal collective bargaining status, which it finally did on 27 February. It had been seeking to negotiate a first collective bargaining agreement and was demanding permanent status for the contract workers supplied by Rahat Corporation.

RMG workers face further repression after massive wage strike 01-04-2019

When 50,000 garment workers went on strike in December 2018 and January 2019, in protest over wages, at least 750 were sacked in the immediate aftermath, while one worker died and over 50 were injured as a result of heavy-handed police intervention. Since then workers have faced further reprisals. 
By February 2019 over 11,600 workers had lost their jobs. Many also faced criminal charges after employers and the police filed cases against over 3,000 unidentified workers. About 70 workers were arrested, some of whom were released on bail. Salauddin Shapon, secretary general of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council, commented: “The arrests targeted union leaders and office bearers with the tacit support of employers in order to cripple union activities.” Those arrested face trumped-up charges that could lead to lengthy prison sentences. At least two workers were being held on attempted murder charges, which carry a life sentence. The use of criminal complaints against large numbers of “unknown” people is a common practice in Bangladesh, allowing the police to threaten virtually anyone with arrest. 
It also emerged that police raided homes and indiscriminately shot rubber bullets, hence the severe injuries. Workers further reported being approached by representatives of “yellow unions” – set up or controlled by the employer to prevent the establishment of a genuine trade union – and being pressured to sign a document stating that they accept responsibility for the damage to the factories. They were told that if they signed this letter and submitted it to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), they would receive one month’s notice and get their back wages, essentially trying to get workers to admit guilt. 

Mass dismissals and sinister threats after garment workers’ strike 01-02-2019

Following the January 2019 strikes by garment workers protesting low wages, 7,000 workers were sacked by their factories, most of which make clothes for well-known western brands. In addition, hundreds of garment workers have been arrested and more than 30 cases have been filed against the workers.
The protests ended with the government promising to raise their pay, but when workers returned to work many found they no longer had a job. At least 750 workers at various companies in the manufacturing hub of Ashulia found notices hanging on their factory gates informing them of their dismissal along with photos of their faces, a union leader said.
The union leaders who spoke to the press about the situation wished to remain anonymous for fear of further reprisals. “Police told me not to create trouble. Otherwise I’ll be disappeared,” one reportedly said.
On 1 February 2019, garment workers held a protest rally with the support of the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) and demanded the release of all workers detained, the unconditional withdrawal of all charges and the reinstatement of sacked workers.

Global confectioner tries to stop workers forming a union 14-01-2019

Dutch-based confectioner Perfetti Van Melle told workers at its plant in Gazipur that they must withdraw their application for the legal recognition of their union. A large majority of workers at the plan formed the Perfetti Van Melle BD Pvt Ltd Employees’ Union and had applied for registration on 11 November 2018. Union officers’ work schedules were changed, and they were denied access to the plant. Company representatives then began visiting workers in their homes pressuring them to withdraw their union membership and to sign a form stating they were forced to join the union, a common tactic used by employers in South Asia seeking to claim that the union has no real members.
Despite the pressure the union persisted, and was granted legal recognition on 14 January 2019.

One garment worker was killed and another 50...08-01-2019

One garment worker was killed and another 50 injured after police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at around 5,000 protesting workers on the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka, 8 January 2019. The following day, police used water cannon to break up a crowd of some 10,000 striking garment workers blocking a major road in Savar, outside Dhaka. Police also raided the homes of some garment workers, vandalising their properties and even shooting them with rubber bullets, victims alleged.
Family members and co-workers identified the dead worker as Sumon Mia, 22, an employee of Anlima Textile in the Kornopara area of Savar. His colleagues claimed he was not a protester but was caught in the clash between the police and demonstrators while on his way to work. The victim’s co-workers took the body to Anlima Textile Factory and began demonstrating with Sumon’s body in the factory. The police arrived soon afterwards. They fired rubber bullets and charged with batons to disperse the protestors, leaving at least 11 workers injured, including two who sustained bullet injuries, said witnesses.
The protests began after a reported 50,000 garment workers, many making clothes for international retailers such as Zara, H&M, Tesco and Walmart, walked out of their factories demanding higher wages. Garment workers were angry that not everyone was benefiting from a recent 51 per cent government increase of the monthly minimum wage to 8,000 Taka (US$94), particularly senior workers. Protesters also said the increase was too low to cover the rising cost of living.
The unrest originated in Naraynaganj on 9 December 2018 soon after the new minimum wage took effect, and sporadic clashes between garment workers and police broke out across the Dhaka District, with reports of numerous injuries, notably in Mirpur and Gazipur.

Garment workers injured by police in protest over non-payment of wages 23-09-2018

Police baton-charged and fired tear gas at several hundred protesting workers from the Knit and Knitex factory in Gazipur on Sunday 23 September 2018, leaving at least ten garment workers injured. The protests began the day before after the workers had only been paid half their August pay. Following reports that some workers had been made ill by contaminated water supplied by the factory, the protestors were joined on the Sunday by workers from neighbouring factories who helped them block the Dhaka-Mymensingh Highway, which is when tensions mounted and the confrontation became more violent.

On 29 August 2018, at least 15 people were...29-08-2018

On 29 August 2018, at least 15 people were injured after police were sent to break up a protest by workers from the Amin Jute Mills in Chittagong. They were owed six months’ pay and had been promised it for that week, but that morning the mill manager informed them they would only get three weeks’ pay. When the workers took to the streets, the police tried to drive them back injuring 15. Two required hospital treatment.
In a similar incident two weeks earlier, about 1,200 workers from the Alhaj Jute Mills in the Jamalpur district demonstrated on 15 August to demand outstanding pay. There were violent clashes with the police and ten workers were hospitalised.

Protesting auto-rickshaw drivers injured when police suppress demonstration27-04-2018

At least 20 auto-rickshaw drivers were injured on 27 April 2018 when police broke up their protest along the Dhaka-Sylhet highway. The drivers’ three-wheel vehicles had been banned from using the highway and the previous day the police had seized five vehicles, leading to the protest. The police arrived with batons to disperse the protestors, leading to violent clashes. The drivers returned to form a human chain across the highway, and the police responded by firing blank shots and tear-gas canisters. A number of police officers were also hurt.

Disciplinary measures after protest over job losses 05-04-2018

The Hydroxide Knitwear factory in Gazipur announced disciplinary measures against 57 workers after several hundred employees protested on 5 April 2018 against the dismissal of 400 workers without any prior notice. Management had purchased new machines to replace the workers as a cost-saving measure. The protesting workers were members of the National Garments Workers Federation and the Ekota Garments Workers Federation.

Garment union leaders face false attempted murder charges 01-04-2018

After leaders and members of the Garments Workers’ Trade Union Centre (GWTUC) were attacked by representatives of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) on 31 January during a peaceful protest outside Ashiana Garments Industries Ltd in Dhaka, the GWTUC attempted to file a criminal complaint against the attackers at a local police station, but police refused to take their statements.
Instead, the BGMEA was able to successfully file a criminal complaint against 12 named persons, the majority of whom were GWTUC leaders, and 150 unnamed workers, accusing all of attempted murder and vandalism. The union leaders named in the complaint were GWTUC President Montu Ghosh; General Secretary Joly Talukder; Executive President Kazi Ruhul Ami; Senior Most Leader Sadekur Rahman Shamim; International Affairs Secretary Monzur Moin; General Secretary of the Ashulia Reagion K.M. Minu; General Secretary of the Gazipur District Jalal Hawlader; Executive President of the Ashulia Reagion Lutfar Rahman Akash; and Organising Secretary of the Ashulia Region Mohammad Shahjahan.
The charges were patently false, and of the 12 leaders charged, only three were actually present at the Ashiana protest, while two of them, Joly Talukdar, GWTUC general secretary, and Montu Gosh, its president, were not even in Dhaka at the time of the alleged events.
They were granted eight weeks bail, which expired on 1 April. On that date six GWTUC leaders were arrested on the basis of the false charges, namely Joly Talukdar, KM Mintu, Monjur Moin, Jalal Howladar, Lutfar Rahman and Md Shahjahan, and detained in Dhaka Central Jail. They joined a seventh GWTUC member who had been in detention since the beginning of February.
The union believes that real reason for the arrests was its leading role in the campaign to increase the minimum wage for garment workers.

Repression of electricity workers seeking to form a union31-01-2018

Electricity workers also found their application to form a union aswas repeatedly rejected. The Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board (BREB)’s statutes effectively deny 37,000 electricity workers their right to union representation. The Palli Bidyut Sramik Koromchari League (PBSKL) electricity workers’ union has fought a prolonged legal battle for recognition but despite their consistent victories, the BREB has remained defiant and has appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

The BREB has also sought to repress those active in seeking union recognition. After a meeting with the Building Workers International (BWI) in August 2017, four PBSKL representatives were sanctioned by the BREB and shifted to a different part of the country away from their families and communities. Other workers have been suspended for months at a time for their union involvement.
At its October 2017 meeting, the Global Power Trade Union Congress passed a resolution in support of the PBSKL, urging the ggovernment of Bangladesh to live up to the rights embodied in its Constitution. At the same time, the BWI wrote to the ILO Country Director in Bangladesh, alerting them to the upcoming legal proceedings and the behaviour of management towards workers that attempted to exercise their right to freedom of association.

Garment workers assaulted after peaceful protest16-08-2017

More than 50 garment workers at Haesong Corporation Ltd were injured after being attacked by hired thugs as they took part in a peaceful protest against the sweater manufacturer on 16 August 2017.

The sit-in and strike, which took place outside the Korean-owned company’s headquarters in Hizalhati, Gazipur, was organised by the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF). Those injured included the union’s general secretary and vice-president, who are both women. Furthermore, an NGWF organiser was kidnapped and not released until nine in the evening. Local police refused to file workers’ complaints about the kidnapping or the attacks.

The protest was about an ongoing dispute with Haesong, which suspended 218 workers on 4 April 2017. The workers had been demanding payment for their unused leave for the year 2016.
On 22 June, workers reached a written agreement with factory management, which promised to pay all dues and legal compensations by 4 July. When the company failed to comply, the deadline was extended to 4 August. However, the workers were still not paid, which led to the demonstration on 16 August where the attacks took place.

Violent attacks and criminal charges against garment workers trying to form a union27-05-2017

On 27 May 2017 local thugs threatened and physically attacked workers and leaders of the proposed union at the Azim Group’s Orchid and Savar factories in Chittagong in front of the gates of the two factories, located in the same building. Attempts to form a union at the factories had been repeatedly rejected on flimsy grounds.

The violence continued the following day as workers and union leaders were again beaten and warned that if they continued to organise unions, they would be killed. The local police force watched as union leaders were assaulted.

The attackers even went to union leaders’ homes and threatened family members. One union leader’s wife was threatened at knifepoint and another ’leader’s brother was kidnapped and later released. Many union leaders took refuge in the union office, out of fear of further attacks exposing their families to violence.

Following the attacks, company management filed criminal charges against the 61 workers and union leaders involved. Although 38 of the workers were released on bail, and 22 people were held in jail.

In the meantime the threats of violence continued, with around 200 workers under constant fear of attack by local thugs. Furthermore, workers were forced by management to sign a document stating they did not want a union in the workplace, as a condition to return to work.

Garment workers denied union registration15-03-2017

In March 2017 workers at the Orchid Sweater factory in Bangladesh appealed for solidarity support following repeated rejections of their application for formal union registration.
They had been attempting to register a union since February 2016, but the Joint Director of Labour (JDL) had repeatedly denied their request on flimsy grounds. Orchid management’s response to their initiative was to harass the workers and threaten to sack the office bearers of the proposed union.

In January 2017 the workers made their third attempt at applying for the registration of the Orchid Sweater Workers Union. In March this request was also rejected, and the reasons given were again vague. Unions suspected this was due to the political influence of the factory’s owner, the powerful Azim Group, particularly given that Mr Azim was himself a member of Parliament.

Further intimidation and arrests in retaliation for garment workers’ protest23-02-2017

Following the mass protests over wages by tens of thousands of garment workers in the industrial town of Ashulia in December 2016, strikes were quashed, arrests were made, and garment manufacturers sacked some 1,600 workers.
The intimidation and arrests continued into 2017. Union offices were ransacked and vandalised and union documents and equipment were stolen. On 10 February 2017 nine members of the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation were detained by authorities in Chittagongafter police interrupted a training session. A week earlier, police spent four hours grilling trade union officials at the Gazipur offices of the Bangladesh Revolutionary Garments Workers Federation, leading them to halt their union activities for fear of police interference. In total 35 people were arrested, most of them union leaders.
Outrage at the overt crackdown on the labour movement resulted in an international campaign led by IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union. Thanks to the pressure created by their action and the international campaign, a tripartite agreement was reached on 23 February 2017 between IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC), the Ministry of Labour and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, providing for the release of the arrested trade unionists and garment workers. According to the agreement, those remaining would also be freed and cases against them dropped.

Arrests, suspensions and threats of prosecution following garment workers’ strike05-01-2017

The authorities were swift to take reprisals against garment workers who took part in a week-long strike in the Ashulia district of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on 12 December 2016. Ashulia is a vast garment production hub used by clothing companies around the world, including Western giants like Zara, Gap and H&M. The strike was called in support of the demand for an increase in the minimum wage from USD 68 to USD 190 per month.

The Prime Minister issued a directive ordering the strikers back to work, while the Labour Minister warned that stern action would be taken against the instigators. At least 11 union leaders and workers’ rights advocates were detained in the weeks following the strike under the Special Powers Act 1974, an emergency decree introduced in wartime. Most were members of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers’ Federation (BGIWF)’s, the Shadin Bangla Garments Workers Federation (SBGWF) and the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF).

In retaliation for the strikes, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) suspended production at 59 factories. Two factories affected by the strikes, Windy Apparels Ltd. and Fountain Garments Ltd., have filed criminal complaints against 239 workers, while the Hemeem Group was reported to be filing complaints against as many as 1,000 workers. By early January 2017 more than 1,600 workers had been suspended and police had filed cases against 600 workers and trade union leaders.

Many garment workers were too scared to go back to work and some even returned to the countryside to escape police persecution. Most local trade union offices in Ashulia were shut down or had been vandalised.

Anti-union dismissals continue at Chevron15-12-2016

In December 2016 Industriall Global Union reported that the Chevron oil company had dismissed 145 workers from its Bangladesh operations. Back in May 2015 the workers had sought to form a union, and called for permanent contracts. The great majority of the 500-strong workforce were on “temporary” contracts. The union organisers were promptly dismissed at the time – some by text message – and further dismissals followed. Throughout 2016 the company continued to ignore the workers’ collective demands for regularisation and union recognition.

Union busting at garment factory27-07-2016

Habib Fashions garment factory tried to block the formation of a union and then shut down. The Sommolito Garment Sramik Federation (SGSF) applied to register a union at the factory with the Joint Director of Labour (JDL) on 30 June 2016. They were seeking to improve working conditions, such as the unacceptably long hours. Workers were forced to work from 6 a.m. till 10 p.m. during Ramadan in June, for example, to fulfil orders on time.

The JDL wrote to SGSF raising certain objections concerning its application, which the union then began to address. While it was working on this, the factory management met SGSF leaders on 19 July 2016 and asked them to withdraw the application for union registration. When SGSF refused, the factory management began shifting machinery on the night of 27 July 2016 and declared a temporary closure to take effect as of August 2016, claiming it did not have any orders to fulfil. The Dhaka-based factory was a subcontractor to many factories producing for international brands, however, and still had plenty of orders on its books. The SGSF believed the closure was purely to prevent the formation of the union and to discourage any future attempts at organising.

Obstacles remain to the registration of trade unions15-06-2016

Three years after the Rana Plaza collapse, in which 1,200 people died, the government was still failing to comply with the Bangladesh Sustainability Compact, established with the European Union with the support of the ILO, to improve labour rights and health and safety in the garment industry. An evaluation by the ITUC, IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union published in January 2016 concluded that “Far too much remains to be done by the Government of Bangladesh (GOB) and the garment industry, not only to ensure safety but to guarantee basic respect for the law – including both national and international labour standards.”

A high-level tri-partite ILO mission to the country in mid-April 2016 expressed concern about the rate of trade union registration. Figures compiled by the Solidarity Centre in Dhaka showed that in 2015 the government rejected 73 per cent of applications. In 2016, by mid-April, 13 applications had been submitted, but only three had been approved, while the majority had been rejected.

Only about 10 per cent of Bangladesh’s more than 4,500 garment factories have registered unions, says a Human Rights Watch report. The labour law requires an unreasonably high 30 per cent of workers to agree to form a union and mandates excessive registration procedures, while the government has vaguely defined powers to cancel a union’s registration. Factories also threaten and attack unions and their members with impunity. The refusal to register unions in the readymade garment sector formed part of a Freedom of Association complaint submitted by the ITUC to the ILO in April 2016.
In June 2016, further to the ILO mission to Bangladesh in April, the International Labour Conference recommended that the government should “Devise standard operating procedures to render the registration process a simple formal requirement, not subjected to discretionary authority and that does not set out to become an obstacle to registration”.

Union busting and unfair dismissal at telecom company07-04-2016

A union activist was abruptly fired by Banglalink, the second largest telecom company in Bangladesh, on 11 February 2016. Workers at Banglalink had applied to the Registrar of Trade Unions to register the Banglalink Employees Union, BLEU, on 7 February, and informed the employer about the formation of the union on the same day. The following day management spoke out against the union, saying it would hamper the company’s growth. The sudden firing of the union activist three days later led to widespread protests by the workers. In the subsequent clashes the union’s organising secretary was hospitalised, triggering further protests that resulted in the company offices being temporarily closed down.

Intimidation and persecution of union members followed, forcing two union officers to resign. BLEU repeatedly approached the CEO to seek a solution but the company refused to enter into dialogue. Instead management pressured employees to use its Voluntary Separation Scheme (VSS) to resign, threatening restructuring and mandatory job cuts.

On 7 March 2016 the government rejected the union’s complaint against Banglalink for unfair labour practices. It claimed the complaint was not receivable because the union was not registered, and warned union leaders against any engaging in any union activities without receiving registration. The application for registration was rejected by the authorities on 7 April on the grounds that it did not represent 30 per cent of the workforce, even though there was evidence that it represented 35 per cent. The Joint Director for Labour (JDL) alleged a mismatch of signatures and also said the union had failed to present vouchers for dues collection, which is not a legal requirement for registration.

The Banglalink case was cited in a complaint by the ITUC to the ILO and a complaint by UNI Global Union to the OECD.

Mobile phone company union denied recognition05-04-2016

Employees at Grameenphone, owned by Norwegian company Telenor, have spent over two years struggling for the recognition of their union. The Grameenphone Employees Union was formed in June 2012 after over 200 employees lost their jobs. The government has repeatedly turned down their application for registration over technicalities. After prolonged court proceedings, the Labour Appellate court ordered the Director of Labour to register the union. The government refused to issue formal recognition of the union and the company filed a writ with the High Court, to stay the decision of the appellate court, which was granted. The government then issued new rules broadening the definition of “supervisory officer” to render workers with any supervisory function ineligible to join union. Furthermore, the new rules would declare mobile phones an essential public service, which would enable the government to intervene to limit or ban strikes and demonstrations.

Seven demonstrators injured while asking for the truth about the recent death of among many deaths in the Bangladeshi shipbreaking industry01-04-2016

On 1 April 2016, seven people, including a 16-year-old boy, were injured by the guards who opened fire on demonstrators. They were protesting against the death of the worker Mohammad Sumon, which occurred in a Bangladeshi shipbreaking company named Kabir Steel. The man was killed instantly when a truck transporting scrap steel from the Kabir Steel yard in Chittagong ran over him in the morning on 28 March 2016. Factory authorities at Kabir Steel took the body inside and refused to hand it over to his relatives. In response to this unacceptable act, Sumon’s family and co-workers started to protest blocking the Dhaka Chittagong highway in front of the factory for about two hours demanding the punishment of those responsible. The factory guards, acting under orders of Kabir Steel, opened fire on the demonstrators, injuring seven people identified as Nurun Nabi (20), Delwar (24), Usman (25), Munna (20), Musammat Shahnaz (25), Shabuddin (18) and Samir Ahad (16).
Mohammad Sumon was only one of the many Bangladeshi workers who lost their lives at the workplace from the beginning of 2016. All the workers were employed in the shipbreaking industry: on 20 January Akkas Mian (42) died as an iron plate fell on him during the dismantling of a ship at Asad Ship-breaking Yard at Madam Bibir Hat of Sitakunda Upazila; on 3 March Mohammad Shafiqul Islam Shikder (34) died while removing air conditioning from a ship in the OWW ship yard owned by Mahsin Badsha; and on 15 March Mohammad Morselin (20) died in hospital after falling from a ship while working at the SL Ship Breaking Yard in Kumira on 12 March.

Union registration refused at three Azim Group clothing factories 31-03-2016

The Joint Director of Labour (JDL) simultaneously rejected three applications for union registration from garment workers at three factories belonging to the Azim Group – Savar Sweater Ltd., Savar Sweater. Ltd.-A and Orchid Sweater Ltd. – on 31 March 2016. The unions at all three factories were affiliated to the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF), which helped them file their applications at the beginning of February.

After receiving the initial letter of objection from the JDL, the unions submitted their reply addressing all the issues raised by the JDL. In the case of “Savar Sweater Ltd.-A”, the JDL rejected the application on the grounds that “no such factory exists”, despite the fact that workers had factory IDs clearly identifying the factory by name. In the case of the other two factories, the JDL claimed that the union did not represent the 30 per cent of workers required by law – an excessively high threshold by ILO standards – yet failed to explain how it had arrived at this conclusion. The unions say they far exceed the minimum 30 per cent figure.

Nurses charged by police30-03-2016

On 30 March a group of nurses protested in central Dhaka. The Joint Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Krishnapada Roy, requested the nurses to free the street. As they refused – in order to continue their legitimate gathering – the police charged using batons, water cannons and lobbed teargas canisters to disperse them.

They were demanding the Government to meet the promised criteria of selection for the appointment of new nurses under the Public Service Commission (PSC). Some 10,000 new nurses were supposed to be selected using a seniority-base criteria. Nevertheless, the PSC circular dated 28th of March invited open applications from anyone without taking into account seniority as a preferential parameter of selection, thus failing to stand by its previous announcements.

Multinational energy giant Chevron has fired workers by text message in order to intimidate them and discourage union organising16-03-2016

On 16 March 2016 IndustriALL reiterated its complaints against Chevron-Bangladesh, after being ignored for more than one year. Last year, in fact, IndustriALL wrote asking for the interruption of the campaign of bullying, intimidation and harassment against workers taking place in the Bangladeshi branch of the multinational company that ever since did not seem to stop.

Dismissed for forming a union29-02-2016

Five workers were dismissed or coerced into resigning from Panorama Apparels Ltd., a garment factory in Gazipur, on 29 February 2016. All five were officers of a union whose registration was pending. The five reported their unfair dismissal to the Joint Director of Labour (JDL). However the government body found there had been no violation because, so it said, the workers had resigned voluntarily. The decision was based on management’s claims and the resignation letters the workers were coerced into signing. The JDL did not speak to the workers or their union.

Shortly afterwards, the union’s application for registration was rejected. The government claimed that the union had not held meetings with its parent union the Akota Garment Workers’ Federation (AGWF) as stated; that the union president and secretary were not currently working at the factory; that 551 union members could not be identified; that their membership did not represent 30 per cent of the workforce; and that they had not correctly listed their executive committee members. All the JDL’s claims were either false or insufficient grounds on which to reject the application.

The union asked two of the factory’s sourcing brands to intervene. They agreed and called for a conciliation meeting. Days before the meeting took place, the five dismissed workers were asked by local politicians, at the behest of management, to admit they had resigned voluntarily, in exchange for money. They refused, the conciliation meeting took place, and the factory agreed both to reinstate the workers and also to ground rules on relations with AGWF. The workers, however, feared there would be repercussions if they returned to the factory. These events took place just before an ILO tripartite mission was due to visit the country and the factory.

Union busting and police violence against garment workers26-07-2015

Ten workers from Green Life Clothing Ltd, a garment factory at Zamgora in the Ashulia export processing zone to the north of Dhaka, were injured on 26 July 2015 when police baton-charged a group of workers who were demonstrating to demand the reopening of the factory. The factory had been closed indefinitely in order to move some of the production units to another factory owned by the firm. Workers believed the owner temporarily closed the factory to break up the union.

Chevron sacks union organisers 31-05-2015

In May 2015 US-based oil and gas giant Chevron responded to its workers’ decision to create a union by sacking the organisers.

Chevron Bangladesh employed 463 workers but only 37 of them had permanent contracts, with the rest remaining on rolling temporary contracts, in some cases for 20 years. This is against the Bangladeshi labour law that limits temporary employment to three months. The management ignored repeated verbal and written requests from the workers over many years, calling for changes to their unacceptable conditions of employment. After years of intimidation, the workers decided to form a workplace union, following the legal process. The new Chevron workers’ union filed for official registration with the labour authorities on 14 April 2015. Out of the workforce of 463, 218 workers joined. On 20 May 75 employees filed cases at the Labour Court claiming their right permanent employment status
Management reacted to the workers’ union registration aggressively. On 26 May management mobilised police and security forces to blockade the union office. Workers defied the police and demonstrated in front of the office. The following day, 27 May 2015, Chevron dismissed 17 workers, posting a list of their names outside its office. The list included all the newly elected leaders of the new union, notably president Saiful Islam, Kamaluddin, General Secretary, and Hasanur Rahman Manik, Organising Secretary.

In response to demands by the Bangladesh Chemical, Energy and Allied Workers’ Federation (BCEAWF) to reinstate the workers, make their jobs permanent and allow them to form a trade union, Chevron argued that they were not responsible for the workers’ mistreatment, saying a third party labour broker was their employer.

40 workers hurt in clash with police 31-05-2015

At least 40 workers from an Otobi furniture factory were injured during a clash with police on the outskirts of the capital on 5 May 2015. The workers were demonstrating in front of their factory to demand the payment of two months’ salary arrears. Repeated calls for payment had been in vain. As the workers grew more agitated, reportedly throwing projectiles, the police responded with force, firing rubber bullets and releasing tear gas canister. At least 40 of the workers required treatment at local hospitals.

Workers dismissed after striking over safety concerns31-05-2015

Two workers were dismissed on 1 May 2015 after employees of NRN Knitting and Garments Ltd and Natural Sweater Village Ltd-2 took part in a protest to demand that the authorities examine the building their factories were located in to check that it was safe following an earthquake. After the first two dismissals, the Garment Workers Trade Union Centre organised further protests on 2 May to demand the reinstatement of their colleagues. Management responded by dismissing another 27 workers on 3 May and closing the factory, claiming a shortage of orders.

No justice for murdered union leader three years after death05-04-2015

Three years after the torture and murder of garment worker union leader Aminul Islam, his killers have not been brought to justice. Aminul, 39, disappeared on 4 April 2012, and his body was found a few days later with signs of torture. He was a plant-level union leader at an export processing zone in Bangladesh, an organiser for the Bangladesh Centre for Workers’ Solidarity (BCWS), and president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation’s (BGIWF) local committee in the Savar and Ashulia areas of Dhaka. He had sought to improve the working conditions of some 8,000 garment workers employed by Shanta Group, a garment manufacturer based in Dhaka.

Despite an international outcry, including a U.S. congressional hearing, little seems to have been done to bring his murderers to justice. When the United States revoked preferential trade benefits for Bangladesh in 2013, citing human and labour rights abuses, the Bangladesh government dropped criminal charges against two garment worker leaders who worked with him, and announced it would step up the search for the people responsible for his torture and murder. In fact, the government dropped an investigation against a suspect and has taken no further steps to resolve the case.

Suspicions surround his death. His wife said Aminul did not dare speak over the phone because he feared it was tapped, and he would receive arbitrary phone calls from the intelligence services, even in the middle of the night.

Union leaders attacked and dismissed for raising safety concerns02-04-2015

On 2 April 2015 management at the D&D garment factory ordered anti-union workers to physically attack several union leaders, including the president. The attack was in retaliation for a complaint submitted by the union on 16 March to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh alleging that the company had failed to maintain building safety practices. An Accord inspection on 19 March confirmed that the factory was not in compliance.

The factory union, affiliated with the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers’ Federation (BGIWF), received its registration in December 2014 and on 14 January 2015 submitted a charter of demands for collective bargaining. Over the next three months, management continually relocated union leaders, threatened rank-and-file workers with retaliatory increases in production targets if they talked to any of the union leaders, formed a bogus management-controlled union at the factory, and forced many workers to sign a petition denouncing the union’s demands. Union leaders also received anonymous phone calls threatening violence.

After the 2 April attacks management demanded that nine union leaders resign from D&D. When they refused, management called the police, who threatened to arrest those who did not agree to resign. Most did, except the union president, who was forcibly removed from the factory and threatened with violence. Complaints and demands for reinstatement to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMA) were to no avail. It took months of pressure from buyers, urged by the accord, to convince D&D management to reinstate the union leaders, which they finally did on 15 December 2015.

Anti-union tactics rife in garment factories01-04-2015

In April 2015 Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report “Whoever Raises Their Head, Suffers the Most: Workers’ Rights in Bangladesh’s Garment Factories”. Based on interviews with more than 160 workers from 44 factories, it details numerous rights abuses and anti-union tactics by employers. Despite recent labour law reforms, says Human Rights Watch, workers who try to form unions face threats, intimidation, dismissal, and sometimes physical assault at the hands of factory management or hired third parties.

A union leader at a factory in Gazipur, for example, said that when she and others tried to set up a union in January 2014, they were brutally assaulted and scores of workers were fired. A union president at another factory was beaten as he left work with his wife who was also targeted. “She was beaten on her head and on her back. Her arms were severely injured and bleeding. Bones of one of her fingers were broken. She had to get 14 stitches on her head. When they were beating up Mira, they were saying ‘You want to do union activities? Then we will shower you with blood.’ ” Another organiser who suffered a fractured leg after being beaten by thugs said, “One thug yelled at me that if he heard me speak the name of the NGWF [an umbrella union] in the future, he would cut out my tongue.”
The result of such tactics is that despite recent labour law reforms, fewer than ten per cent of garment factories have trade unions. This takes on particular significance in light of the recent major disasters – the 2012 Tazreen fire and the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse - in Bangladesh’s garment industry, causing hundreds of deaths. “If Bangladesh wants to avoid another Rana Plaza disaster, it needs to effectively enforce its labour law and ensure that garment workers enjoy the right to voice their concerns about safety and working conditions without fear of retaliation or dismissal,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s Asia deputy director.
The January 2016 evaluation of the Bangladesh Sustainability Compact by the ITUC, Industriall and UNI Global Union is equally critical. The sustainability compact was established between the European Union and the Government of Bangladesh with the support of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to improve labour rights and health and safety in the ready-made garment sector in the country. However, as the evaluation points out, the Bangladesh Labour Act of 2013 falls far short of international labour standards on collective bargaining and freedom of association, and despite comments by the ILO, nothing had been done in 2015 to amend provisions on these fundamental rights. At the same time trade unions remain banned in the export processing zones (EPZs) while Worker Welfare Associations do not enjoy the same privileges and no real collective bargaining takes place. “The evidence is clear and compelling – it is still extremely difficult for workers to exercise their fundamental labour rights in Bangladesh. The inability of many workers to organise and form unions without retaliation and to bargain collectively over the terms and conditions of work means that any gains in building and fire safety and other conditions of work will not be sustainable, leading to certain future tragedies.”

Workers beaten09-02-2015

On 22 February 2014, a garment worker leader and four union organisers were badly injured when about two dozen people beat, kicked and threw them to the ground as the five were speaking to workers in the dormitory where they live. One of the organisers was taken from the scene, beaten severely and dumped, unconscious, nearby. He and a female organiser remain in the hospital. The whereabouts of the garment worker are unknown. The organisers, all working with the Bangladesh Federation of Workers Solidarity, were supporting workers who had earlier approached the union for assistance and who had been fighting to be paid the minimum wage at their factory. The factory, which manufactures for Western brands, employs approximately 4,500 workers – many of whom had staged a wage protest on 18 February 2014, which was ultimately put down by police.

Anti-union discrimination against union leader09-02-2015

Golgar Hussein, General Secretary of the Berger Paint Bangladesh Employees’ Union, was dismissed on 4 December 2013 for his trade union activities. The union in Kalurghat, Chittagong, has survived years of management interference and intimidation in regular breach of the labour law and the collective agreement. Between 2000 and 2011, eleven union members and officers were dismissed for their trade union activities. Following Golgar’s dismissal the local management pressured workers into a union election on 27 January 2014.

Employer refusal to bargain with representative unions31-12-2014

The Azim Group, one of the country’s largest and most influential employers, consistently refused to recognise trade unions at the Global Garments factory throughout 2014. The company only agreed to recognise the trade union in December 2014, after a US-based trade union put pressure on US buyers to cease buying from the Azim Group until it recognised the trade union.

Government refuses to register trade unions30-11-2014

There have been many reports of unions in the ready-made garment industry having had their applications for registration frustrated by the state and/or factory owners. In these cases, the trade unions seeking registration are refused or delayed.

For example, Basic Apparels in Uttara terminated 72 workers and union members, including three executive committee members, after they submitted an application for registration in September 2013. The union registration application was still pending in February 2014.

A report released in August 2014 stated that there are trade unions at only two per cent of factories the management of which are members of employer associations Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).

However, 73 per cent of the BGMEA and the BKMEA factories and 89 per cent of non-member factories have participation committees. Participation committee is a body manned by representatives from both factory owners and workers. Trade union leaders term this committee as “pocket committee” of factory owners which actually works to favour owners.

In late November 2014, the State Minister for Labour Mujibul Haque Chunnu expressed the view that multiple trade unions would be bad for the RMG sector. When speaking to the council of Bangladesh Trade Unions, Minister Chunnu is reported to have said: “I don’t understand what good so many trade unions will do. Cambodia’s garment sector suffered a huge blow for approving too many trade unions.”

Unionists attacked and threatened18-09-2014

Physical force, sexual intimidation and threats of physical assault and dismissal are often used to stop workers from organising. This has been particularly widely reported in the ready-made garment (RMG) industry. Workers involved in establishing unions in RMG factories in Gazipur, Ashulia and Tongi in Dhaka, and in Potanga and Nasirabad in Chittagong have been beaten, intimidated, threatened (including threats of death), sacked and forced to resign by factory managers and floor supervisors. Some factory owners have also used local gangsters to threaten or attack workers, including in their own homes, and many female workers have reported receiving threats and insults of a sexual nature.

One worker reported that when workers in her factory presented their union registration forms to the company owner, he threw it in the rubbish bin and then threatened them, saying that he would never allow union membership. Unidentified assailants (including one with cutting shears) later attacked two of her fellow organisers. Two weeks later, a group of men, including a known gangster and the factory owner’s brother, visited her home and threatened her. She agreed to resign.

At another factory, a supervisor said any woman joining the union would be stripped of her clothes and thrown onto the street. Elsewhere, a manager said a female union organiser had been “polluting” his factory and that she should go and work in a brothel. A union organiser at a different factory said he had received a phone call asking him not to come to work again and also threatening to kill him if he did so. When he went there the next day, he was surrounded by a group of men who beat him and slashed him with blades.

On 22 February 2014, one garment worker leader and four organisers of the Bangladesh Federation for Workers Solidarity, two of whom were women, were attacked by a group of approximately two dozen men while speaking to employees of Chunji Knit Ltd, a garment manufacturing company. All five of the union representatives were beaten, kicked and thrown to the ground. One organiser was taken from the scene, beaten severely and dumped, unconscious, nearby. A female organiser was beaten, had her clothes torn off her and threatened with rape. The garment worker leader went missing.

On 26 August 2014, a female union president was beaten in the head with an iron rod just outside a factory owned by the Azim Group, requiring her to get more than 20 stitches. On 10 November 2014, at another of the Azim Group’s factories, a female union organiser was swarmed by people, pushed to the ground and assaulted, and a male union organiser was chased away and punched. Another female union organiser entered the factory before being pushed out the door and then shoved out of camera range.

On 18 September 2014, workers of Lifestyle Fashions Maker Ltd reported being clobbered with iron rods and bamboo sticks by 20-25 officials following a feud over the formation of a trade union. The attack left at least 30 people injured.

Trade unions and human rights groups have reported that the police response to attacks on trade unionists, including the abduction, torture and murder of labour activist Aminul Islam in April 2012, has been very poor. As at April 2014, no one had been arrested or tried for his murder.

Strike broken up by tear gas and storming police31-08-2014

In August 2014, Bangladesh police fired tear gas and stormed a garment factory in Dhaka where workers had been staging a hunger strike over pay, a union official says.
Bangladesh police fired tear gas and stormed a garment factory where workers were staging a hunger strike over pay, a union official says.

The police, armed with batons, forced 400 workers to flee the factory in the capital Dhaka where they had been holding a 10-day strike to demand back pay and a holiday bonus, the official said.

“Police fired tear gas and baton charged us, they forced us out of the factory, where we were staging the hunger strike,” said Moshrefa Mishu, head of Tuba Group Sramik Sangram Committee, which represents 15 garment unions.

Workers were seen running out of the factory crying due to the tear gas, while others were bleeding from head injuries.

Police attacks protesters07-08-2014

On 7 August 2014, police hindered Tuba Group workers from getting to the factory where they had been on an indefinite hunger strike for 11 days demanding their overdue wages and Eid bonus. Police used rubber bullets, teargas canisters and water canon to disperse the agitating workers on the factory premises in the capital. Moshrefa Mishu, President of the Garments Sramik Oikya Forum, and Bangladesh Trade Union Centre’s Assistant General Secretary Jolly Talukder were arrested.

Transport union leader hacked to death05-05-2014

On 5 May 2014, the body of General Secretary of Jhenaidah Bus Minibus Transport Workers’ Union Abdul Gaffar Biswas was found in the Arappur Baro-bridge area. He had been hacked to death the day before by a group described in the press as “unidentified miscreants”.

The leaders of Jhenaidah Bus Minibus Transport Workers’ Union called a strike in response to his murder.

Employer interference with trade union elections17-03-2014

Berger Paints, a paint manufacturing company with over 65 per cent of the market share in Bangladesh, sacked the general secretary of the Berger Paints Employees’ Union just before he was due to be re-elected for a third consecutive term. The company then pressured the remaining workers into holding a union election shortly afterwards. IndustriALL reported that the result of the election was “heavily influenced by the clearly illustrated risk of being sacked for raising a strong voice in defence of workers”.

Discrimination of trade union members28-02-2014

The dismissal, harassment and intimidation of workers who have sought to establish or join a trade union is widespread, and has been particularly widely reported in the ready-made garment industry (RMG) and the shrimp processing industry.

In February 2014, the Labour Ministry completed an investigation into 16 garment factories accused of firing trade union leaders in the preceding few weeks. One example was Chunji Knit Ltd, a garment manufacturing company, which sacked 18 workers after they established a trade union at Chunji Knit’s Dhaka factory in February 2014.

In some other cases, the factory management paid money to union leaders and members to convince them to quit their jobs and cease their efforts to form trade unions. In other cases, employees have reported being coerced into resigning by force.

The US embassy in Dhaka reported that the management of Weltex Garments threatened the workers in an effort to persuade them not to establish a trade union. Company management forced workers to sign blank papers after they submitted their application for registration of the trade union and issued termination letters to the union leaders.

The US embassy also reported harassment of workers in Rumana Fashion and Fashion Unit, Masco Industries, Eagle Eyes Design, Sadia Garments, Global Trousers Management, Fashion Island, Tunghai Sweaters, Dorin Washing Plant, Norwest Industries, Shoab Knit Composite, Redical Design, Vobs Apparels Ltd, Samia Garments, Diamond Fashion Wear, Fashion Gears Ltd, Vision Apparels, and Eve Garment Ltd. The President of the Masco Cotton Ltd Workers Union reported that he and three other workers were suspended from work for two and half months for trade union activity.

A worker at Jalalabad Seafood Limited shrimp-processing factory reported that a while after a union was established at her workplace, the owners fired the union leader and sent thugs to beat him. The union leader had to leave his area and his home, and the union was dismantled.

Police violence at Rana Plaza factory05-06-2013

Police opened fire on workers who protested near the former Rana Plaza factory for fairer wages and outstanding salary payments which had been promised previously by the government and the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). Local media reported that 50 people were injured by police. The death toll from the Rana Plaza disaster reportedly now stands at 1,130.

Murder of trade unionists01-07-2012

In July 2012, two workers, Mintu Hossain and Rokibul Islam (the latter a union leader) were murdered and 35 wounded by government-provided security guards at the Akij Bidi Factory in Daulatpur Upazila. From available information, the guards opened fire on a crowd of over 3.000 workers had who staged a demonstration at the factory gates in an attempt to recover unpaid wages and to seek a pay rise. The plant manager, Khurshid Alam, gave the order to open fire on the workers. While he has already been arrested, the status of his case remains unknown.

Aminul Islam, an organiser at the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, was found dead in April 2012. In 2010, he had been arrested and tortured by police and intelligence services. From the information available, it appears that Mr Islam was not the victim of random violence but rather targeted for his trade union work. His murder was no doubt meant to send a clear message to trade unions and NGOs not to protest against the low wages, gruelling hours and poor working conditions that characterise the RMG industry. Some suspects have been interrogated, but as yet no one has been arrested, much less prosecuted. It is believed that members of the intelligence service are involved in his murder. Most troubling, Bangladesh PM Sheik Hassina, appearing on the BBC, cast doubt on the fact that Aminul Islam was ever a labour activist and further claimed that no one had ever heard of him before his murder.

Anti-union discrimination30-01-2012

Workers at Rosita Knitwears (Pvt.) Ltd. and M/S Megatex Knitters (Pvt.) Ltd. Companies in Ishwardi EPZ began demonstrations on January 30, 2012 regarding serious violations of workers’ rights, including sexual harassment of a female worker and several discrepancies over annual raises and leave. As a result of the unrest, 291 workers, including the presidents of WWAs of Rosita and Megatex, were dismissed. In negotiation with the international buyers and the South Ocean Group (the owner), Rosita and Megatex agreed to reinstate WWA leaders Helal (Rosita) and Belal (Megatex) and the other 289 workers and sought BEPZA’s approval to remove them from an EPZ “blacklist”. However, BEPZA refused to give permission to reinstate the workers on the grounds that there is no prior practice, nor are there provisions in BEPZA rules and regulations to allow for the reinstatement of a dismissed worker in his former jobs. Of course, there are no provisions (nor should there be) prohibiting the reinstatement of workers in law or regulation. Furthermore, there is precedent for reinstatement.

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