Unrelenting labour unrest for wage hike led to mass closure of at least 55 apparel factories in Ashulia industrial hub for indefinite period, owners said Tuesday.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) president Md Siddiqur Rahman said, "Managements of the factories where workers had observed work abstention for last nine days have been forced to declare their units shut from Tuesday according to provision of 13(1) of labour law."
The export-industry leader came up with the announcement at a press conference held at the BGMEA headquarters in the capital.
The press meet was organised to brief newsmen about the current labour situation in the garment factories in Ashulia industrial belt following the workers' demand for a sharp wage hike.
BGMEA vice-presidents Faruque Hassan and Mahmud Hasan Khan, its former presidents Abdus Salam Murshedy and Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin were among others present at the conference.
According to the law workers would not get any wage for the period of strike, he said, adding: "No work, no pay."
Terming the work abstention illegal, the BGMEA president said they (workers) did not follow the appropriate procedures as they did not place any demand in writing to either the government or any factory management.
He warned that more such closure declaration might come if workers observed work abstention.
He alleged that outsiders provoked the workers and they (workers of the industrial belt) had been staging work abstention to press their demand for formation of new wage board and wage hike.
There is no logic behind framing new wage structure as, according to the law, wage board is formed five years after the last wage hike, he told the media, adding that only three years have passed since the last wage hike was announced.
Explaining the situation, he said initially there were problems in one factory that percolated into three to four factories later.
"But during the last three days the problem became acute. Workers went out of the factories after punching their cards," he added.
On Monday it was decided in a meeting headed by the commerce minister that factory would open and workers would join, but they (workers) didn't join.
Ministers for home, shipping, and labour were present at the meeting that was also attended by labour leaders and law- enforcing agencies, Mr Rahman said.
The BGMEA president smelt local and international conspiracies as they (conspirators) know the RMG industry is the lifeline of Bangladesh's economy.
The backbone of the country's economy would be ruined once the industry is ruined, he added.
Describing the existing challenges, including the remediation- work cost, declining trend in apparel product prices, rising production cost and currency rates of competitor countries, the industry is facing, he noted with concern that if such labour situation continued, it might adversely affect the largest foreign currency-earning industry.
"The workers whose contribution is large to the industry will be affected much more than the entrepreneurs if the industry shifts elsewhere," he said.
The BGMEA president urged the workers to resume their work and refrain from any destructive act instigated by others.
"Entrepreneurs will not be able to pay if you (workers) observe work abstention," he said.
Responding to a question, he said trade union does not have any connection with the Ashulia situation. It is the workers who apply for union registration and form unions.
Meanwhile, hours before the BGMEA announcement, the state minister for labour and employment, Mujibul Haque, in a separate press conference termed the work abstention by the garment workers in Ashulia illegal.
Their work abstention will be treated as "misconduct" and "unfair labour practice" as per the law, he added.
"The demands of the workers for forming wage board is totally illegal, and legal steps will be taken against them if they do not return to work immediately," the minister said.
Ruling out the possibility of formation of new wage board for apparel workers, he said the board would be formed after five years as per the law.
Three years earlier the government had formed a wage board for garment workers so there is no chance of changing it within next two years.
The government would work over the matter after receiving written demand from the workers, but no one is yet to put any charter of demands to the government, he said.
He alleged that certain vested group was conspiring to make unstable the apparel industry by using the workers.
There might be international conspiracy to ruin the country's garment industry, he told the journalists.
Both the minister and the BGMEA president urged the garment workers to resume work immediately.