INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS AND LABOUR MANAGEMENT OF BANGLADESH
Work resumed. Workers were given a half-day break on Thursdays until the shipment was complete. Workers know that foreign buyers do not pay for orders until they receive them, and so at Asha Garments, they believed that the greatest risk was not being paid for work already done.
In a context where labor has little power or protection, workers consent to a physically punishing schedule because they understand it to be a temporary—though recurring—requirement of producing for a voracious and unpredictable global market. This consent can only be fully understood with a wider appreciation of how a global industry premised on unequal power suppresses labor organizing. Workers rarely dare to organize collectively; they know that managers can enlist thugs in the labor colonies to report back on any organizing efforts.
It is telling that Shumi and the other workers at Asha Garments openly challenged the long hours only when the shared experience of exhaustion led them to feel they had no other choice. As the next section will show, worker grievances stem from an assault on dignity and well-being that is a fundamental component of labor precarity.
We make noise because we are not seen. Vandalism [ bhangchur ] never is the first step. It happened when we stood with our backs against the wall and had nothing left to lose and attacked. Workers found the military-style management particularly offensive when it came to the type of speech to which they were subjected, including humiliating insults and sexualized language to berate both female and male workers.
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Approval of applications for leave, if genuine and imperative for the worker. Increase in presence bonus hajira bonus. If any night [shift] takes place, then food tiffin has to be provided. An end to firing workers sromik chatai at will and without proper cause. Supervisors and in-charges must not use abusive words or expletives against workers. We had demands and we submitted these to the factory authorities.
Management assured workers once again that changes would be made. On the morning of August 2, a list of the names of 60 workers perceived as troublemakers was hung by the main factory gate. The workers were informed that they were under suspension. Although the security guards attempted to check timecards so they could not enter the factory, some of the banned workers managed to get inside.
The next morning began a lockout during which the factory remained shuttered and the workers were not earning. The decision was taken that the factory would re-open the next day, but workers male, 27 female including the original 60 workers, would not be welcomed back. On August 11, an additional names were posted on the factory gate, bringing the total number of workers dismissed to The factory was open that morning, and the dismissed workers managed to get into the factory grounds.
The unrest spread from SLS factory to the adjacent streets as workers from nearby factories joined in the protest. Teargas canisters and more than rubber bullets were fired on the workers, who tried to resist with broken bricks. The large glass windows of other factories and a nearby mall were shattered. Traffic stopped, windshields were broken, and the roadside shops had to close in a busy part of Dhaka. Nearby factories halted production and some locked the workers inside to prevent them joining the crowds. By the end of the day, the SLS factory gate was heavily guarded by more than members of law enforcement.
Most of them wore helmets, bulletproof jackets, shin pads, and held shields, batons, and lathis pieces of stick made of raw wood or processed cane. A large yellow water cannon and three police cars were parked outside along with a prison van. The next day, national media headlines reduced the incident to garment workers vandalizing vehicles on the street.
The protest at the SLS factory was represented as yet another bhangchur , collective labor militancy recast as senseless vandalism. At the time of the SLS protests, there were 17 different labor union federations who, for their part, focused efforts on public displays of solidarity and various forms of juridical activism. Since the Rana Plaza collapse, these outward reaching efforts have extended further, with the influence of foreign donor money and the invitation to collaborate on bigger agendas, projects, and agreements like the Accord that seek to improve labor conditions without upending the global structural inequalities on which the industry is based.
Critics of the labor protest in Ashulia, just as in the SL Sweater Factory dispute, say that workers too readily opt for destructive forms of labor protest, bhangchur vandalism that is harmful to the industry. This disapproving narrative was voiced frequently at the Dhaka Apparel Summit.
The worker participation committees that have been established in factories under the Accord represent a non-conflictual forum mostly dedicated to health and safety matters. As Khan and Wichterich , p. Although the SLS protests occurred in , before the Rana Plaza collapse and all the new initiatives, programs, and policies that followed, the experience of SLS workers resonates with those who protested in Ashulia in — The workers tried to negotiate peacefully for decent wages and fair working conditions, but these attempts quickly become co-opted by employers.
Industry and government leaders, as well as the high-profile attendees at the Dhaka Apparel Summit, present a similar message: that there is no place for militancy in this industry. But as the workers at both Asha Garments and SLS would argue, their employers squeeze them as much as they can. Without the leverage of militant protest, they are not heard. Far from being a natural condition, this labor has been actively cheapened by processes of labor precarization: suppressing mobilization and keeping wages and labor standards low Muhammad Although initiatives like the Accord improve building safety and create new mechanisms for expressing worker grievances, they can leave untouched the fundamental conditions of the industry: long hours and punishing conditions, with very little leverage for workers to change their circumstances.
Workers bear the contradictions of an industry premised simultaneously on their labor power and their political powerlessness across a global terrain.
Gap project to boost social dialogue in Bangladesh | Apparel Industry News | just-style
The second thing that the harmonious vision does not account for is that militant labor protests are an important means for workers to advance their interests, even though they are increasingly subject to state repression and violent crackdowns. As Rahman and Langford , p.
Yet, the global structural precarity upon which the industry is built may create more demand for militancy when workers find no formal means for exercising power. Workers have turned to militant protest not only because the extremity of the threats to their livelihoods and well-being has pushed them to do so, but also because this kind of protest is effective.
Since the Rana Plaza collapse, this divide has only deepened and extended, with global unions and their national federation counterparts increasingly involved in formal negotiations, representations, and mediations at a high level, while local often unregistered unions may be more engaged with the substantive issues that workers face, as seen on the streets of Ashulia in and Although global union federations are not the subject of this article, we suggest a need to examine the impacts of foreign-led initiatives and donor money on shop-floor struggles.
As our ethnography shows, Bangladeshi workers are subject to risks in the form of labor precarity and the inability to sustain themselves, as well as dehumanizing treatment and attacks on their ability to organize around their collective interests. What this narrative leaves out is the ongoing, sometimes militant protest of workers in rebellion against precarious conditions.
Or, as Dina Siddiqi , p. If unions are not more involved in factory-level organizing, workers are left to choose between anodyne participation on worker committees and spontaneous, militant protest when simmering grievances bubble over.
The real danger of this widening gap—a danger we suggest becomes heightened when an agenda of swift industrial growth demands tighter control of labor—is that militant protest is increasingly criminalized and violently suppressed. This means that workers who feel they have no other choice but to protest militantly face severe consequences not only from employers but also from the state. Just as the government showed in the days before the Dhaka Apparel Summit and as workers at SLS found in , workers who insist on militant protest will find themselves quickly controlled by a state committed to its own vision of a safe and prosperous garment industry which looks very different from what workers on the streets of Ashulia have been demanding.
Our focus on Bangladesh contributes to debates on the relationship between labor unions and precarity a reminder that precarity is profitable—both nationally and globally. For workers, recuperating that value is a political matter, not a technical one.
The Alliance was created by American brands and does not involve unions. NAP includes a number of national-level activities, including the legislative reforms and commitment to inspecting the garment factories covered by neither the Accord nor the Alliance Ashraf , p. Skip to main content Skip to sections.
Advertisement Hide. Download PDF. Open Access. First Online: 10 January Less attended to are the more subtle and diffuse ways in which garment production consumes the bodies of workers as a normal part of the labor process. Karim ; Wright It is an innate part of the job, and inescapable. Workers remained seated at their machines, waiting. Shumi stood leaning on her machine.
When a supervisor tried to talk to her, Shumi gave him an angry look and once again silence reigned. One supervisor later told Hasan Ashraf that he became scared that workers would start vandalizing the factory or set it on fire. Workers knew that if they tried to form a union they risked getting fired.
However, among the permanent employees were some individuals who had visited the offices of trade union federations, participated in May Day processions, and even belonged to trade unions independently. A small group of mostly male workers in the knitting section created a list of demands to present to management.
Prepared in the labor colony rather than at the factory, the 12 demands represented grievances that had accumulated over time and reached crisis when a female co-worker was publicly insulted by her supervisor. They demanded the following: 1. Freedom at work. Since , the Joint ETIs have worked together in Bangladesh to develop a scalable and replicable model of social dialogue that will establish structures and processes for workers and employers to negotiate their rights collectively and resolve conflicts peacefully.
The need for workers to be heard is of increasing importance for brand members of the Joint ETIs, because they recognise that giving workers the opportunity to be heard is key to achieving fair working conditions, as well as creating stable sourcing markets and sustainable economic growth. The social dialogue project is supported by Danida and is currently being implemented by the joint Ethical Trading Initiatives, 3F, and the Confederation of Danish Enterprise Dansk Erhverv.
The project partners are purposefully concentrating their efforts on improving the rights and safety of textile workers, developing environmentally sustainable production, and increasing transparency across the supply chains within the RMG industry. The initiative includes training in industrial relations between managers and workers.
The aim is that, by the end of the project, ten textile factories employing 15, textile workers will have established a common understanding of social-dialogue processes, accumulated experience in collective bargaining, and contributed to a greater respect for gender equality within the industry. The project will also have supported the implementation of structures that facilitate greater worker voice and representation, as well as a better handling of grievance mechanisms for the benefit of the textile workers involved in the project.
Last but not least, the project will result in the development of a scalable and replicable social-dialogue toolkit, which includes significant lessons and best practice that can contribute to better conditions for thousands of textile workers across the RMG industry, beyond the scope of this project. Considering the above difficulties, this book has been written in simple and non-legal language.