Call for Solidarity Action: GWTUC in Bangladesh
Do note these updates since the call was published:
New Yorker to blacklist Dragon Sweater?
FOB joins Solidarity Movement for Workers at Dragon Sweater
Solidarity from Bristol to Dhaka
Solidarity from Hamburg to Dhaka
Garment Workers rally in Dhaka
Letter from Dragon Sweater management and response from GWTUC
Approximately 6,000 workers used to earn a living in the Dragon Sweater factory nearby Dhaka. According to the Garment Workers’ Trade Union Center (GWTUC) 90% of them are union members. Since March many of them – usually producing for brands like Primark, H&M, Gap, Zara and Woolworth – are protesting lay-offs and missing wages.
Make sure to inform the GMD mailing list, if you decide to arrange solidarity activities.
Call for Solidarity Action submitted by GWTUC:
I am writing to you as a call for solidarity action for the protesting workers of the Dragon Sweaters factory and Garments Workers’ Trade Union Center in Bangladesh (GWTUC). Thousands of workers of the Dragon Sweaters factory, located in Dhaka, Bangladesh, have been protesting against their illegal termination by ownership since the beginning of the COVID 19 lockdown in March. I will give a brief overview of the situation so far, and any likely future developments:
The current protests of the Dragon Sweaters factory workers are organized by the GWTUC. 90 percent of the factory workers are members of our union.
We have had factory level committees at Dragon Sweaters for a number of years now. The factory owners are part of a large conglomerate called the Dragon Group, headed by an influential businessman in the garments sector, Golam Quddus. They have a history of not paying workers wages, union-busting and the majority of workers at the factory have years worth of unpaid arrears and unpaid payments from the provident fund.
The current protests started at the beginning of March when the government imposed a nationwide lockdown due to the COVID 19 pandemic. At that time, the owners of Dragon Sweaters decided they would terminate the majority of the factory’s approximately 6,000 workers without severance pay, owed arrears, owed provident fund amounts and owed bonus pay.
The factory owners attempted to fire the workers using the excuse of economic losses due to the pandemic. We believe this argument is blatantly false not only because of the 8 billion dollar stimulus package offered by the government, a significant portion of which was used to offer low interest loans and working capital to help garment owners; but also because the government specifically allocated money for the garment owners to pay the workers their owed wages during this economic slowdown.
With that in mind, we believe the owners of Dragon Sweaters have no justification to fire the thousands of workers en masse without the years in back pay and owed allowances. The action to fire workers without the pay and benefits owed to them is illegal under Bangladeshi law. The owners are using the pandemic as a smokescreen to get rid of older and more experienced workers, some of whom have worked for the factory for more than two decades. The majority of the 6,000 workers have been protesting against the actions of owners. But through police intimidation and harassment the numbers of protestors have dwindled. They had last been paid partial wages for the month of April and are struggling to sustain a living in Dhaka with little in the way of financial support or social welfare.
The workers at Dragon Sweaters demand to be compensated with their unpaid wages, owed provident fund amounts and bonus pay and that their attempted illegal terminations be overturned. We have attempted to engage in negotiations with the owners, But they have been unresponsive and adamant on every occasion, instead resorting to scare tactics. We are currently attempting to create pressure on the owners by appealing to the government against their illegal actions. To this end, we have taken part in almost daily demonstrations, programmes, and most recently laid siege to Labor Ministry offices to press home our demands.
The workers at Dragon Sweaters have produced clothes for brands such as Gap, Zara, Primark, H&M, Woolworths, Next, Lidl and New Yorker. Thus, we believe that international solidarity actions from our comrades in countries which house these brands, such as demonstrations in front corporate offices, mass call ins, and other measures would amplify the pressure on the owners of Dragon Sweaters to accept the demands of the workers. The sooner such action is possible the better as the workers are in perilous economic straits and any pressure will further the conditions for the acceptance of their demands.
In recent times attention has been brought to a dubious publication with malicious intent on the basis of a travesty of facts. A-infos recent publication on Dragon Sweaters factory (Bangladesh) seems to be based upon a malevolent and anti-national propaganda piece of letter/write-up by the GWTUC, Bangladesh.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economy has plunged and so has the market for Ready-Made-Garments. The nature of RMG in Bangladesh heavily relies on the global economies; hence the COVID-19 brought the RMG trade in Bangladesh and in other countries to a standstill. Accordingly, as a responsible and matured democracy the Government of Bangladesh assisted the exporters with a soft-loan to pay the workers’ wages during the pandemic. To make the process transparent and hassle-free the payments were sent directly to the workers MFS and/or Bank accounts. This resulted in no unnecessary gathering of people during the pandemics havoc and simplified transactions. However, certain delays followed in execution of the payment transmissions as many workers did not have the required MFS or Bank accounts, as well as scheduled banks were overwhelmed by the enormous tasks of transferring salaries to over 4 million workers. While such delays only happened during April (the first month of Government assistance for wages) no such delays occurred for the salary of May. All the 800 workers’ wages have been duly paid up till May 2020, and will be paid for June accordingly.
Misleading statements in the article/letter/write-up by GWTUC, are:
1. The article/letter/write-up by GWTUC, points out there are 6000 workers working in Dragon Sweaters factory in Dhaka, which is far from the reality. In reality Dragon Sweaters factory in Dhaka has close to 800 workers. The numbers pointed out in GWTUC’s article/letter/write-up appears to be of pure fiction and extreme over-stretching of readily available data.
2. Claims about Dragon Sweaters history of “not paying workers’ wages, union busting’ is baseless. All the workers’ wages have been paid to the full extent of the labor law of the country up until May 2020. While claims of union busting activities are self-contradicting as the GWTUC rightly claimed to have had “factory level committees at Dragon Sweaters for a number of years now”.
3. The matter of provident fund is not an issue as the workers are still getting their monthly salary without risking their lives during the COVID 19 pandemic, as advised and supported by the Government of Bangladesh. They have been paid till May 2020, and will receive salary for June 2020 when it is due.
4. There have been some forms of protests by 30-40 workers not thousands as mentioned by the article/letter/write-up by GWTUC. These protests were directly a result of confusion due to the delay in receiving the salary. While such protests were peaceful there has been no activity by the law enforcement agencies to “intimidation and harassment” towards any protestors of Dragon Sweaters factory. Such allegations are malicious and intended towards destroying the goodwill of the Nations’ Police force, hard-earned reputation of Bangladesh Garments industries and Bangladesh itself.
5. Never have the management/owners of Dragon Sweater used any scare tactics against anyone, let alone its own work-force. Dragon Sweater has been on the forefront in enhancing the workers privileges for years, many of its old and current workers have been given opportunity to open their own operation with financial and technical assistance provided to become employers themselves. These allegations are baseless, and defamatory in nature.
It should be noted that the said article has eroded any semblance credibility on the part of GWTUC as a neutral, and fair organization intending on the wellbeing of the workers, rather exposes their malicious intent on ruining an industry that has for decades elevated millions of people out of poverty. The fact that an organization as GWTUC, has failed to verify their tall claims regarding the number of workers at Dragon Sweaters factory, the wages due, number of protestors, and so on. It also contained malicious and defamatory statements against the Law Enforcement agency of Bangladesh, against the management/owners of the factory and painting an artificially negative picture of our small but great nation. The article/letter/write-up by GWTUC, aims to malign and defame this particular industry and Bangladesh by using such blatant misinformation arbitrarily. Bangladesh is a land of Law, and governed by able leadership that executes the fullest extent of the law on behalf of all its citizens without discrimination. Any and all rising disputes between management and workers have always and will continue to be resolved by the law of the land.