Project: Worker Empowerment and Advocacy in the RMG Sector
Joba worked as a helper in the trimming section of a garment factory in Ashulia. On 12 June 2017, she was called into the office of the production manager, Hamim, who attempted to rape her. Fearing his threats and societal disapproval, Joba did not tell anyone about the incident. Six weeks later, she learned that Hamim had raped four other workers. Joba and a co-worker gathered the courage to file a complaint at the factory head office. However, the head office immediately fired Joba and her colleague with two months’ wages as compensation and forced an eight-day leave on all workers who claimed to have been raped, threatening to fire them if they went to the police or media. When outsiders heard about the matter, Joba and the other victims were harassed and threatened to leave their homes. On behalf of Joba, BLAST requested the factory to grant the arrears and other benefits Joba was entitled to. The factory authorities agreed to BLAST’s request and paid the arrears and offered Joba an operator position at a different trimming section of the factory. Joba was satisfied to hear that Hamim was arrested and put under trial. BLAST helped Joba and her mother gain trust in legal remedies and inspired them to help others seek legal assistance. Joba hopes to leave the past behind and to start afresh.
- Shahana receives maternity welfare benefits
Project: Worker Empowerment and Advocacy in the RMG Sector
Shahana was working at a garment factory when she became pregnant in 2017. She was told by a social welfare officer that she could only work until 20 October 2017, and would have to take four months of unpaid leave without any benefits. Shahana was left feeling lost and helpless until a co-worker suggested contacting BLAST. On 22 September 2017, Shahana went to the BLAST Tongi office and was assisted in drafting an application to the factory for maternity leave. Shahana informed the factory that she would seek legal redress if she did not receive the full benefits in her application. The factory authorities subsequently approved her leave and paid her two months’ wages. They also told her to reach out after the birth, and she rejoined on 20 March 2018.
Shahana would not have been aware of her right to maternity leave or benefits were it not for BLAST, and she would just have been fired without wages or benefits like many other women. With the help of BLAST, Shahana is now able to support her growing family. She started to share her experiences with others so they too can receive the benefits entitled to them.
- The power of many: 47 garment workers fight together for their rights
Legal Cell at BLAST HO
On 1 December 2016, workers at a garment factory were forced to take a month-long unpaid leave, which was then extended for another month by the factory authorities despite the workers’ expressed demand to return to work. Without income, the workers struggled to survive and demanded their wages. The factory authorities finally announced that the factory had been closed, and asked the workers to resign and take a severance package of fourteen days’ wages. The workers refused but were forced to leave the factory.
On 17 March 2017, 47 workers sought legal assistance from BLAST. BLAST proposed mediation to the factory authorities who were represented by BGMEA. Eventually, BLAST convinced both parties successfully of the benefit of mediation. On 24 March 2017, after three sessions of arduous mediation, the workers obtained the promise of compensation, at a total of 818,019 BDT, which they had rightfully demanded from the factory authorities. Within the next five days, all 47 workers recovered their arrears as promised.
The mediation effort by BLAST not only left the workers very content to have recovered significantly more compensation than they would have through the BGMEA arbitration process but also satisfied the garment factory because of the efficiency and relative ease of the process. BLAST’s role was appreciated by workers, authorities, and trade unions in equal measure.
- WORKERS’ RIGHTS INFRINGEMENT IN JASHORE AND KHULNA
Different jute mills breached their duty as employers by advertising permanent work positions while already having over 600 workers already appointed to those positions on a temporary basis. Aggrieved by this, the workers filed a writ to stay the circular and demanded that they be regularized as employees for the jute mills in permanent positions. BLAST offered legal support to the workers to file the petition. The High Court held that the workers had the right to be absorbed in the respective companies, and directed the jute mill authorities to give them permanent positions.
- Shapla secures maternity benefits for coworkers
“I told the factory officers that it was Runa’s legal right to take maternity leave. If they denied her this, we would take legal action,” said Shapla Begum, 28-year-old garments worker and member of a Self Help Group (SHG) set up by BLAST.
These groups, set up in areas where women workers from garments factories live, each consist of 10 workers, both women and men. The participants receive training from BLAST on their rights under the labour law, and how and where to get legal protection. They also develop mediation and negotiation skills so they can raise demands for improved working conditions with their employers. They are then able to use their knowledge and skills to educate co-workers and to assist them in securing legal remedies from factory authorities.
Shapla heard that the factory management had refused to give maternity leave to her co-worker, Runa, then seven months pregnant, and that they were also pressuring her to resign. Shapla took Runa to the hospital for a medical examination to confirm the status of her pregnancy. She then filed a written application to the management on Runa’s behalf, seeking maternity leave, and provided the medical report. She explained that Runa had a legal right to get maternity leave and that if they refused, Runa would take legal action. The factory officials, including the General Manager, held a meeting and agreed to grant Runa maternity leave.
Shapla was able to make a difference because of the knowledge and skills she gained as a member of an SGS. After her intervention, the factory management authorities have had to grant all applications for maternity leave, in compliance with labour laws. Thus, Shapla’s one strong but firm action has benefited over 1500 women.
Koli has been working as a sewing operator at a garment factory since 2006. Due to family issues, she was unable to continue working and submitted a resignation letter to the Managing Director of the factory in October 2017, which was accepted. Though her resignation was made effective in December, the management refused to pay Koli her dues when asked for. In January 2018, Koli came to BLAST Head Office to apply for legal aid to recover her dues from the factory.
BLAST sent a letter to the factory management requesting them to participate in a mediation session. The management responded with a written statement. BLAST sent another letter to the management in June for mediation. The management then informed BLAST that they had paid Koli her lawful dues of Taka 68,788/=.