Taslima died on 13 October after having been repeatedly refused sick leave by factory management. Unable to risk her job, earning woefully low wages, she was worked to death.
Partly in response to their workmate’s death, on 11 December 2016 workers from Windy Apparels commenced industrial action in pursuit of living wages. Windy Apparels supplies a number of well know high street brands including H&M, Inditex (including its Zara brand), Esprit, Tesco, Arcadia, S Oliver, and Debenhams.
In the days following 11 December, the strike spread to other factories in the Ashulia area. By 20 December, 59 factories were closed. Many were shut as a preventative measure by factory owners rather than by striking workers. The workers are demanding the implementation of minimum monthly wage of 15 000 BDT/month (equivalent to 182 EUR, 189 USD or 264 AUD per month.)
The current minimum wage is 5 300 BDT, which was set in 2013 after the Rana Plaza collapse. In response to being required to pay 5 300 BDT, factory owners stripped overtime pay by unilaterally increasing output targets and requiring unpaid overtime to meet the new targets. 5300 BDT is $62 USD or $93 AUD per month ($2 USD per day or $3 AUD per day).
This strike action is the next stage in worker led action as progressive unions including the Garment Workers Unity Forum, the Garment Workers’ Trade Union Centre and other organisations mobilise in pursuit of the living wage.
In response to the worker action, the factory owners and local authorities have filed false cases against workers and their union leaders, hired thugs and goons to attack striking workers and commenced mass sackings of striking workers. These are typical tactics designed to sabotage the ongoing living wage movement.
The current movement for a living wage acknowledges the increases of 2013 and 2014 following the Rana Plaza collapse do not come close to establishing a living wage for garment workers. In addition, landlords and markets continue to increase the cost of utilities and commodities. This has led to a universal cry that wage conditions are now worse than prior to the Rana Plaza collapse.
The Ashulia region in Savar is the largest industrial area in Bangladesh with hundreds of thousands of garment workers producing billions of dollars worth of garments every year. It is also home to two of the world’s worst recent industrial mass homicides (Tazreen Fashions (2012) and Rana Plaza (2013).)
This short summary was prepared from reports by labour activists including Monzur Moin of the Garment Workers Trade Union Centre, Sabuj Shahidul of the Garment Workers Unity Forum and Saydia Gulrukh of the Activist Anthropologists.