Union attacks 'shoot workers' threat

3 August 2006 - 2:45pm
News

Bangladeshi union leaders have condemned open threats from government ministers to shoot protesters on sight. In a speech given yesterday, Commerce Minister Hafizuddin Ahmed demonstrated the government's hardline stance when he asked the garment owners to open fire in case of attacks on their factories in future.

The garment industry has been held up as an example of business success in Bangladesh, earning the country almost £4 billion a year. However, behind the veneer of corporate profits, workers fail to reap any of the benefits, often working 90-100 hour weeks with mandatory overtime, often for as little £13 a month. Poor safety conditions have exacerbated discontent among factory workers, with a number of high profile cases including the 2005 collapse of the Spectrum factory, which killed 60 workers and seriously injured hundreds more.

In May this year strikes and protests spread through a number of factories after protests in the Gazipur factory producing for high street brands such as H&M, Gap, M&S, Tesco and Next, led to the arrest of ten workers. This popular discontent was fuelled when police began opening fire on workers, shooting one protester. Demonstrations then spread to some other factories, which workers had singled out as the worst abusers.

Protesters have called for an end to low wages and long working hours. Given the unsafe conditions and the almost complete lack of respect for workers' fundamental rights, particularly the right to organise, it should come as no surprise that people take to the streets.

War on Want partner, the National Union of Garment Workers, has been at the centre of negotiations with the government. In June they reached an agreement to increase the minimum wage to £22 a month. Yet the government has failed to fulfil its promise.

Amirul Haque Amin, general secretary of the NGWF, said: "We condemn the minister for calling on factory owners to shoot protesters. It is imperative that the government and factory owners address the root causes of the problems and give workers a wage that they can live on. There needs to be more stringent legislation so that these horrific accidents which we have seen cannot happen again. I assume this is the very minimum people in the west who buy these clothes would ask for"

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