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.
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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.