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'Treatment is now quite good' - R.L. Denim workers

11
Aug '09
The National Labor Committee had the opportunity to meet recently with a group of R.L. Denim garment workers in the city of Chittagong, Bangladesh on their day off, Friday afternoon, July 17.

The workers continue to be genuinely excited and pleased with all the recent improvements in the R.L. Denim factory. Metro Group has returned its orders, and everyone is now working. The young workers were grateful for the international solidarity they have received.

Now, no one is cursed at, humiliated or beaten as they were in the past. The workers were very clear that after the firing of the general manager and most abusive supervisors “treatment is now quite good.” They are paid correctly and on time.Overtime is no longer forced, and the standard shift is from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with a half-hour morning tea break and an hour off for lunch.

In the past, they were often forced to work through their lunch hour.Other improvements include the fact that the factory has been cleaned and painted, and there is now a small factory clinic with free medicines. Also, there is now a canteen where workers can take their lunch, rather then sitting in the dirt or on the roof as they did in the past. Several workers commented that the bathrooms are now clean and there are even towels. There have also been health and safety improvements: They have been provided with clean drinking water, respiratory masks, hair caps, vests and identification cards.

The workers also know that they cannot just sit still; they must organize if they are to guarantee their new rights and factory improvements. It will not be easy. But the workers are not alone. In addition to international solidarity support, both the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity (BCWS) and the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) are accompanying the R.L. Denim workers.

In fact, it appears that some very preliminary but hopeful initial steps are being taken by the new government of Bangladesh to finally confront the worst abuses in the country's 4,500 garment factories. An official Ministry of Labor investigation reports that 34 percent of garment factories surveyed are in violation of Bangladesh's labor laws. Fifteen percent of factories are not even paying regular wages to their workers. As bad as that sounds, it is doubtless a vast understatement of the abusive and illegal working conditions endured by the more than two million mostly young women garment workers.

However, this is the first time the Bangladeshi government and Ministry of Labor have openly confronted and exposed the routine violations in the country's garment factories.Hopefully the next step will be to finally hold the powerful factory owners accountable to respect the fundamental legal rights of the workers.

The National Labor Committee


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