UNI joins call for release of labour leaders detained in crackdown on Bangladesh unions
At least 11 labour leaders, including union and worker rights’ activists have been detained in relation to recent wage protests in the Bangladeshi garment industry. The majority of the detainees are still in police custody and two are missing and unaccounted.
The Bangladesh government has a long history of targeting independent union and worker rights’ advocates, including arbitrary detention, and the use of physical and psychological abuse.
Unions, human and worker rights’ NGOs have sent a joint letter to brands sourcing from Bangladesh, urging them to tell the Bangladesh government and the employers’ organisation, BGMEA to stop the crackdown and release the detainees.
Since December 21, 2016, several union leaders and worker rights’ advocates have been detained or arrested under the Special Powers Act 1974, an emergency measure introduced in wartime.
The crackdown is in connection with a wage strike in Ashulia, near the capital Dhaka, which has resulted in the BGMEA suspending production at 59 factories. The recent wave of detentions, some of which targeted individuals wholly uninvolved in the strike action, shows how far the government and some factory owners are prepared to go to limit fundamental rights of expression and association.
There are also reports that the owners of Windy Apparels Ltd and Fountain Garments Ltd, two of the factories impacted by the strike, have filed criminal complaints against 239 workers and that the Hameem Group is filing complaints against as many as 1000 workers.
UNI Global Union Deputy General Secretary, Christy Hoffman said, “This new wave of attacks against trade union organizations shows the Bangladesh authorities and the Bangladesh garment industry are willfully failing to heed the advice of the international community. The ILO and the European Union have criticized the Bangladesh government’s failure to protect the right to freedom of association and urged it to take steps to ensure its laws and practices are in line with international standards.
“UNI urges the Bangladesh government to see that the current crackdown against labour leaders ceases and those in detention are returned safely to their families.”