Textile factory strike — Fayzal Ally Beegun: “Mauritius must put pressure on to defuse this crisis”

2 weeks, 1 day ago - November 15, 2023
Textile factory strike...
Otherwise, this strike risks seriously impacting factories and orders in Mauritius.

Faced with the strike of textile factories based in Bangladesh, with daily violence and clashes, the situation risks having repercussions for the units operating in Mauritius. Which will be very harmful for our economy. This is what trade unionist Fayzal Ally Beegun believes. You should know that major brands such as Adidas, Next, Woolworths, Zara, River Island, Okaidi, Miladys, Markhams, Fabiani and Guess are among those manufactured in these factories in Bangladesh.

“The impact will obviously be direct and inevitable for Mauritius. This is why, and since Bangladeshi workers have been contributing to the Mauritian economy for around thirty years, I am asking the Mauritian government to put pressure on the leaders of Bangladesh to find, as quickly as possible, a positive way out of the crisis,” he makes clear.

For more than a fortnight, employees of textile factories in Bangladesh have been on strike. Many are concerned by major international brands, renowned and sought after across the globe. Fayzal Ally Beegun, trade unionist and foreign workers' rights activist, explains: “More than four million Bangladeshi workers are affected. This is three times the population of Mauritius. Their main point is that they are paid a pittance. That is, on average 23,000 taka, which is barely worth Rs 9,000. The strike movement is based on this demand supported by the Bangladeshi trade union class, and the workers who are directly demanding double their salary. You should know that this request, which I find completely reasonable, was endorsed by major customers like Adidas, Hugo, and so on, who are present in Bangladesh where their products are mainly manufactured. These customers went to Bangladeshi leaders to ask them to approve this request and increase the wages of textile factory workers. These clients, it should be noted, are well aware of the economic issues when they invest in countries like Mauritius, Madagascar, Bangladesh, Vietnam and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the Bangladeshi government has refused to listen to these requests and is only offering a minimal increase, equivalent to Rs 4,500. Hence this increase in violence...”

The trade unionist says: “I am very familiar with the mentality of Bangladeshi workers. They won't let it happen. And when the word is given to stop work, to strike, and worse, to resort to violence, they will do it. They are not afraid of repression.”

The trade unionist points out that if this strike movement is not quickly defused, and an advantageous outcome is not found for these factory workers, the situation risks becoming complicated and the repercussions for Mauritius will inevitably be serious.

“Both large clients and all companies present in Bangladesh have units in Mauritius, Madagascar, Vietnam, and other countries where labor is not expensive. On the other hand, it is in Bangladesh that most of the production is carried out. For example, the units based in Mauritius operate essentially in product sampling,” he says, asserting that “letting this situation rot is equivalent to condemning the factories present in Mauritius. If these factories close in Bangladesh, the situation will hardly be rosy for the Mauritian units...

Reason why the trade unionist urges “the Mauritian government, through none other than the Prime Minister, through his capacity as head of government, as well as the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Labor, to put pressure on the government of Bangladesh via the embassy of that country. The interests of workers must come first. Their demands are completely legitimate and justified. In 2023, we cannot have fathers and mothers working for sums as paltry as Rs 9,000 per month! This is labor exploitation and modern slavery, nothing else. "

The trade unionist concludes: “I sincerely hope that this crisis will be effectively defused so that work in the Mauritian units is not disrupted. Already with post-Covid-19 and inflation around the world, things are not going well. We must do everything we can to ensure that this situation does not degenerate and affect the Mauritian economy.”

150 factories closed and 11,000 workers prosecuted

In Bangladesh, clothing manufacturers closed 150 factories "for an indefinite period" on Saturday, while the textile sector faces a sharp rise in wage demands, which led the police to prosecute 11,000 workers for violence, the authorities announced. .

The poor South Asian country has been rocked by violent protests by garment workers demanding better wages since last month, which have left at least three workers dead and more than 70 factories ransacked or damaged, according to police .

The textile sector's minimum wage committee this week proposed a 56.25% increase in the basic monthly salary of the sector's four million workers, bringing it to 12,500 takas (104 euros), an amount deemed "ridiculous" and immediately rejected by the unions.

On Thursday, some 15,000 workers clashed with police on a highway and ransacked Tusuka, a major factory, and a dozen others.

“Police have filed charges against 11,000 unidentified people following the attack on the Tusuka garment factory,” police inspector Mosharraf Hossain told AFP.

Bangladeshi police often charge thousands of people - without specifying their names - following large protests and political violence, a tactic that critics say is a way to suppress opponents.

Police officials told AFP that 150 factories had closed in the major industrial towns of Ashulia and Gazipur, both north of the capital Dhaka, as manufacturers feared further strikes at the start of the working week in Bangladesh on Saturday.

“Manufacturers invoked article 13/1 of the labor code and closed 130 factories for an indefinite period in Ashulia, citing illegal strikes,” Sarwar Alam, police chief of the manufacturing center, told AFP.

Protests over wage demands pose a major challenge to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 2009.

A resurgent opposition is contesting its power as it faces elections scheduled before the end of January.

Bangladesh's 3,500 garment factories account for about 85% of the country's $55 billion in annual exports, and supply many major global brands, including Levi's, Zara and H&M.

But working conditions for many of the sector's four million workers, the vast majority of whom are women, are dire.

Text by Le Mauricien

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