TUBA STRIKE: What a country have we become!
by Faruk Wasif for Prothom Alo, translated by Irfan Chowdhury for AlalODulal.org
Kidnappers demand ransom after taking innocents hostage. Prisoners are exchanged during wars. But what sort of ransom is being sought for the Tuba Group, where sixteen hundred workers are made captive? If their co-owner, the arrested Delwar Hossain, is not released, the workers will not be paid. Nowhere in the company law is it mentioned that other business-partners will not be able to withdraw money from the accounts in the absence of a partner. The Tuba Group has made this case and Delwar Hossain’s bail has been granted.
Just as it is a crime to use hapless humans as shields in wars, the Tuba group has committed a crime by using hungry and wage-depraved workers. The Labour Minister has legitimised this use. The Shamim Osman(s) rely on the support of the party in power, and garment factory owners rely on the government support. What a dreadful situation.
Delwar Hossain has secured bail from a (temporary) bench of the High Court on the last working day before the Eid-holiday. According to the Court, the Deputy Attorney General was present on the day of hearing. On behalf of the government, he was supposed to put up legal obstructions against the bail being sought for the prime accused of a sensational case. That is the norm. In criminal cases, the Government and its lawyers have to be notified beforehand in order to conduct a hearing for a bail application. Therefore, whatever has happened, has done so under the watch of the government.The arrest of Delwar Hossain was advised by the Home some investigation committee, set up after a fire burned 111 workers (of Tajrin Fashions) to death. But the then Home Minister ignored this advice. Still, relatives of the dead-workers filed a case against the man. The Court accepted the case and at one stage ordered to arrest Delwar Hossain. There was a hope that there will be a trial.
Meanwhile, it is Eid. For the workers, denied of any leave, Eid is an especially happy period. Eid gives them the opportunity to meet family members they have not seen for months. Eid is not always a festive occasion, but a highly necessary one. Those who take loans through out the year and cannot buy anything for their children use their Eid-bonus to repay their debts, eat a decent meal and buy new clothes for their sons and daughters.The Tuba Group, not only froze three months salaries and the Eid-bonus of workers, but also made the workers’ Eid-leaves a hostage.Yet, they have earned crores by promising wages. These days, no one even care about the religious imperative that a worker must be paid before his sweat is dried.Since Eid day, sixteen hundred workers have been on hunger strike, demanding their pay. They have been pushed on this path. This is their self defence. The Prime Minister is wishing everyone and accepting Eid-greetings, while the workers’ hunger strike continues. The Labour Minister was on holiday at his village when worker were being admitted to hospitals, one after another.
In the middle of all this, the Chair of BGMEA went to celebrate Eid with his Canada-living family. Many garments owners were on holiday in Singapore, Thailand, and other countries. A lot of them do their Eid-shopping in overseas. Such a country’s Labour Minister Mujibul Haq does not hear the cry of workers but hears the call of Tajrin’s owner Delwar Hossain. In responding to that call, he said, ” The owner of the Tuba Group, Delward Hossain has got the bail. Hopefully, if he is released by next Sunday or Monday the issue will be solved”. He further said, ” I firmly believe that Delwar hossain will be released by Sunday or
Reader, please note, this is his ‘wish and hope’ and the imminent release of an accused (for murdering hundreds of workers) under a trial is his firm-belief. After this, the Labour Ministry should be renamed to ‘Ministry for Owners Welfare’. This Ministry never helps the workers, labourers.In the same Prothom-Alo’s report, the Labour Minister said, “The officials of BGMEA and the Tuba Group had assured me that the workers would be paid before Eid. Unfortunately, they are not paid till today.”
The workers remain unpaid and the owner has got the bail. He has hopes for the owners, and firm-belief on a criminal. Thus he can say, “The workers’ dues will be sorted as soon as he gets out the jail. And if he does that, all the legal steps will be taken by the government. The government is very alert about it”.
No steps were taken after three month’s wages remained unpaid. No steps were taken after the Welch on a promise – ‘payments before Eid’. Now he is claiming that the government is very alert! Yes, to protect the owners, to ensure their profit the Ministers are quite active.
At the time of Tajrin fire, no fire extinguishers worked. No one unlocked the lock of the collapsible gate, as hundreds of workers agonised in the heat of fire. Yet, for Delwar Hossain the lock of jail has been opened. The culprit of Rana Plaza disaster, Rana is getting bails in cases against him. The law is non-functional in his case, but the Police controls the workers agitations brutally.
Those who are not repentant, even after the death of over 1200 (government estimate) or over 2000 ( non-government estimate) in the Rana Plaza disaster, are not human. They are profit-machines. Workers are fed at one-end of this machine and an avalanche of profits are spat out at the other-end. The sweats-bloods-corpses of workers are found under it as residue.
There isn’t a single lifeboat for the drowning destitute. Nor is there any insurance of legal protection. Nor is the assurance of belief. And no hope remains. In this country only the Godfathers and the profit-merchants are hopeful.
What a country have we become!
Faruk Wasif, a journalist and writer.