Population: 152,600,000
Capital: Dhaka
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 182

Attempts to form workers' associations in the textile industry were routinely suppressed and the organisers fired. Major worker unrest and riots sparked by a litany of abuses and poor working conditions led to violent repression, including the killing of one striker and the arrest and beating of union leaders. Systematic government and employer opposition to the exercise of union rights in EPZs continued. Reform of the labour law resulted in increased restrictions on the right to organise unions and to strike and excessive force was again used by police and military forces against protesting workers throughout the country.

Trade union rights in law

Many restrictions: The Constitution provides for the right to form or join unions. There are many restrictions, however. Before a union can be registered, 30 per cent of workers in an enterprise have to be members and the union can be dissolved if its membership falls below this level. The ILO has informed the government that this is a clear barrier to freedom of association and recommended the law be amended, but that advice has been continuously ignored.

Unions must have government approval to be registered, and no trade union action can be taken prior to registration. Unions can only be formed at the factory/establishment level, with some exceptions (such as private road transport, private inland river transport, tea, jute bailing, bidi production) where union formation can take place based on geographic area. There can be no more than three registered trade unions in any establishment. Membership in a union is restricted only to workers currently working at an establishment, meaning that severance from employment also results in the end of a worker's membership in the union.

Candidates for union office have to be current or former employees of an establishment or group of establishments. The Registrar of Trade Unions has wide powers to interfere in internal union affairs. He can enter union premises and inspect documents. The registrar may also cancel the registration of a union, with Labour Court approval.

Exclusions from union membership: Under the Industrial Relations Ordinance (IRO), workers in the public sector and state enterprises may not belong to a trade union, with the exception of railway, postal and telecommunications workers. Members of the security forces are also denied the right to form unions. Teachers are also forbidden to form trade unions, in either the public or private sector. Managerial and administrative employees can form welfare associations, but they are denied the right to join a union

Right to strike not recognised: The right to strike is not specifically recognised in law. Three quarters of a union's members must agree to a strike before it can go ahead. The government can ban any strike if it continues beyond 30 days (in which case it is referred to the Labour Court for adjudication), if it involves a public service covered by the Essential Services Ordinance or if it is considered a threat to the national interest. In this last case, the 1974 Special Powers Act can be used to detain trade unionists without charge. The government may ban strikes for renewable periods of three months. Sentences of up to 14 years' forced labour can be passed for offences such as "obstruction of transport".

Strikes are not allowed in new establishments either owned by foreign investors or established as joint-ventures in collaboration with foreign investors for a period of three years from the date the establishment begins commercial production.

Compulsory conciliation and court referral procedures: The labour law requires that parties to an industrial dispute must follow procedures (such as request conciliation, serve notice of a strike or lock-out, or refer the dispute to the Labour Court for settlement) within a specified period or the labour dispute will be considered legally terminated. The issue or subject of an industrial dispute which is terminated in this manner cannot be raised for a calendar year after such termination.

Collective bargaining limited: Only registered unions can engage in collective bargaining, and each union must nominate representatives to a Collective Bargaining Authority committee, which is subject to approval by the Registrar of Trade Unions. The National Pay and Wages Commission, whose recommendations are binding, sets public sector workers' pay levels and other benefits.

EPZ Law – significant restrictions continue: The EPZ Trade Union and Industrial Relations Bill 2004 provided for the formation of trade unions in EPZs from 1 November 2006. The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association recommended numerous amendments to the law to bring it into compliance with Conventions no. 87 and 98 which Bangladesh has ratified. The government of Bangladesh has fundamentally failed to take any appreciable steps to comply with the ILO CFA's ruling.

The law foresees the phased introduction of freedom of association, providing for a different type of workers' organisation at each stage. However, the law does not go so far as to say that trade unions with full associational rights will be allowed to exist in EPZs after the last stage outlined, which will be after 1 November 2008.

Stage one – worker representation and welfare committees: Until the end of October, workers in Bangladesh's EPZs were still operating under the first stage of the law. They were only allowed to set up Worker Representation and Welfare Committees (WRWC). The law requires all enterprises in the EPZ to have one WRWC, whose elected representatives have the power to negotiate and sign collective agreements on a limited set of topics but not to strike or organise demonstrations. However, workers and labour activists in Bangladesh reported that in 2006 employers generally refused to enter negotiations or sign an agreement with a WRWC.

Under the law, all WRWCs were supposed to cease to exist on 31 October 2006, unless the employer gave an explicit agreement that the WRWC should continue (which they would in practice only do in the case of compliant WRWCs).

Stage two – workers' associations: The second stage of the law provides that a trade union, referred to as a Workers' Association (WA) in the law, can be organised provided over 30 per cent of the workforce requests that the association should be set up. More than 50 per cent of the workers in the factory must vote affirmatively for the WA to be formed.

This was scheduled to start on 1 November 2006 but in practice there were significantly delays, notably because the Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA) did not provide the necessary forms for applying to set up WAs. In new enterprises that start operations after 1 November 2006, workers are not permitted to form an association for the first three months after the commencement of commercial activities.

Only one federation can be formed per EPZ, and over 50 per cent of the registered WA in the zone must vote to affiliate before a federation can be formed.

The BEPZA Executive Chairman also has almost unlimited authority to deregister a Workers' Association, should he determine that the WA has committed an "unfair practice", contravened any part of the WA's own constitution, violated any aspect of the EPZ Law, or failed to submit a report to him. Essentially, the law has made illegal the right of workers to talk about unions in their workplaces or to engage in pressure tactics to persuade recalcitrant employers to sign a collective agreement.

Finally, the law explicitly forbids any strikes in the EPZs until 31 October 2008.

Frequent bans on assembly: The law allows the government to ban any public gathering of more than four people, ostensibly only in cases where "public order" or "public health" are at risk. In fact, the government applied this banning power much more indiscriminately.

Labour appellate tribunal created: The new labour law created an avenue for all the judgements, awards and sentences of the Labour Court to be appealed to a Labour Appellate Tribunal. Previously all such appeals had to be taken up by the Supreme Court, resulting in significant delays in reaching a final legal verdict for labour cases.

Trade union rights in practice

The trade union movement is relatively weak in Bangladesh. This is partly owing to the multiplicity of trade unions and partly owing to the considerable intimidation imposed in practice, especially workers' fear of losing their jobs should they show any sign of union activity. The right to freedom of association and to collective bargaining at the workplace is not respected in the garment sector or on the tea estates. Where unions do file applications for recognition, their registration is often delayed long beyond the 60 days foreseen by law.

Strike bans: The government makes regular use of the Essential Services Ordinance in order to ban strikes. The government's use of this order was continuously applied over the past four years to the Power Development Board, the Dhaka Electric Supply Authority, the Chittagong Port Authority, Biman Airlines, and the Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation.

Restrictions on bargaining and union meetings: Since 2003, the government has banned any collective bargaining in jute mills during production time. Only pro-government supporters are allowed to hold meetings during work time and unions not affiliated with the government's labour grouping are not allowed to hold protests even on their day off.

Employers take advantage of legal loopholes: Private sector workers are discouraged from undertaking any union activity. The Industrial Relations Ordinance gives considerable leeway for discrimination against union members and organisers by employers.

Workers who try to create a trade union are not protected before registration and are therefore often persecuted by their employers, sometimes by violent means or with the help of the police. The names of workers who apply for union registration are frequently passed on to employers who promptly transfer or dismiss them, particularly in the textile sector. Even after registration, workers suspected of carrying out trade union activities are regularly harassed. One popular ploy is to dismiss a worker for misconduct, as they are then no longer entitled to become a trade union officer. A complaint to the Labour Court is

of little use given the underlying corruption and serious backlog of cases which, in some instances, can stretch back more than several years.

Export processing zones – anti-union employers: Employers in the EPZs have been consistently hostile towards trade unions, claiming that many of the companies would be ruined and jobs would be lost if they had to have unions. Some employers in the zones take advantage of the absence of trade unions to commit violations of international labour standards, such as sexual harassment, physical violence, unpaid overtime, child labour, non-compliance with minimum wage regulations and deplorable safety conditions.

Despite protections for WRWC committee members provided by the EPZ Law, discrimination against leaders of active WRWCs was reported in 2006, and an undetermined yet significant number of these leaders and activist members have been terminated with permission from the BEPZA in processes that workers claimed were biased and unfair. Since there is no dispute resolution mechanism or tribunal for workers, except to appeal to the BEPZA, workers in the EPZs had few other options but to protest. After 1 November 2006, those factories with WRWCs turned their attention to frustrating efforts of the workers to form Workers Associations, again employing a series of tactics including harassment, intimidation, and termination of leaders.

Failure to set up industrial dispute resolution mechanisms in EPZs: Although the EPZ law provides for the establishment of an EPZ Labour Tribunal and an EPZ Labour Appellate Tribunal, a full two years after the passage of the EPZ law, these two tribunals have yet to be established.

Garment industry anti-union: Textile workers outside the zones fare no better. An estimated two million women workers toil for 3,300 employers to make clothes for export in Bangladesh. Workers are regularly sacked, beaten or subjected to false charges by the police for being active in unions. The General Secretary of the United Federation of Garment Workers (UGFW) has been arrested more than a dozen times. Meanwhile, the country's garment workers are among the lowest paid in the world. They work long hours with very little leave, and face physical, verbal and sexual abuse.

Employer negligence and government indifference kills hundreds of workers: Negligence by employers and the authorities have had appalling consequences that a strong, vigilant trade union could help to avoid. Based on its analysis of publicly available sources, the respected Bangladesh Institute for Labour Studies found that in 2006 there were 845 workers killed and 3,018 injured by occupational accidents. The ready-made garment sector led the way in its toll on workers, with 141 killed, and 1,578 hurt or maimed.

Ship recycling industry effectively prohibits unions: The Bangladeshi ship recycling industry is based at Chittagong Port. Workers are employed on an as-needs basis, have no contracts and do not sign any documents which could link them to a specific yard. Thus workers have no legal recourse in the event of a dispute. Largely owing to the fear instilled in them – through violence and the precariousness of their employment situation – workers have no way of standing up for their rights or even claiming their dues. Any claim would provoke instant dismissal. Unions are de facto forbidden on the sites and union organisers find it very difficult to gain access.

Violations in 2006

Background: A political crisis was sparked over the government's choice of a three-month caretaker administration to take over when Prime Minister Zia completed her term of office at the end of October, sparking violent protests. President Ahmed assumed a caretaker role until the elections due in January 2007. In December much of the country was paralysed by a blockade aimed at derailing the parliamentary elections.

Striker killed: At FS Sweaters at Gazipur, a pattern of alleged cheating in wage rate calculation, compounded by verbal abuse of workers, caused a series of confrontations between workers and management that in turn resulted in the detention in the factory of three workers' leaders. Management also filed charges against another 80 workers. Workers walked off the job, prompting a strike on 23 May, and management escalated the situation by calling in hired thugs to attack the workers on the picket. When the strikers fought back, the factory management called in the police who opened fire on the strikers, killing one worker and injuring others. As news of the killing spread, workers rioted, attacking factories, and closing roads. Within a day, the riot spread to the Savar EPZ and to other districts of Uttara, Mirpur, Kafrul, Old Dhaka, and Tejgaeon. Media accounts described dozens of factories burnt by rampaging. The government deployed the Army's Rapid Action Battalion to restore order, and harshly cracked down, arresting hundreds of workers.

Union offices raided, leaders arrested and tortured: Government officials also lashed out at the unions, blaming them for instigating the unrest. On 23 May, police raided the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers' Union Federation (BIGUF) Gazipur office, accused the staff present of starting the riots, and arrested two BIGUF union organisers, Rashedul Alom Raju and Rebecca Khatun, and an office staff person, Minara. While in police custody, Raju was blindfolded, beaten, and tortured. When Rebecca and Minara were brought to court on 24 May, their lawyer saw clear indications of bruises and injuries, lending credence to the two women's claims that they were also tortured by the police. They were charged with destruction of property, vandalism, and other charges connected to the labour unrest. On the same day, police also arrested Moshrefa Mishu, the President of Garment Workers Unity Forum, and placed her under remand for five days. However, when she fell ill in prison, she was allowed bail on 26 May, and police filed 19 charges against her.

Overwhelming military and police presence and a tripartite agreement promising improvements in working conditions and wages (including the respect of trade union rights at every factory) brought the riots to an end. Rather than accepting that poor working conditions and abusive practices prompted the frustration that led the riots, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Acting President and the State Minister for Home Affairs both publicly blamed India for conspiring and launching a plan to destroy the ready-made garment industry of Bangladesh in order to gain competitive advantage.

Continued unrest in the factories flared in the Dhaka EPZ after some of the factories re-started production on 26 May – with protesting workers being attacked and arrested at Experience Sweaters on 29 May, and again at other factories in the zone on 3 June.

Systematic firing of leaders organising WRWC in factories in EPZs: Employers routinely harassed, intimidated, suspended and fired the leaders of WRWCs and the BEPZA systematically failed to protect WRWC leaders from these campaigns.

WRWC committee members were routinely suspended by employers without prior approval from BEPZA, making those suspensions illegal – but in most cases, BEPZA took no action to overturn those suspensions. Factory owners' systematic effort to repress workers' exercise of the limited freedom of association rights provided to them by the EPZ law is clearly indicated by the extraordinary number of violations. The total and systematic failure of government officials and BEPZA authorities to protect WRWC leaders significantly undermined the extension of associational rights to workers promised by the EPZ law.

For example, at Honorway Textiles and Apparels, a WRWC election scheduled for May was postponed and in July, before the election could be held, management compelled 37 workers (including 11 WRWC candidates) to resign. Local police were called in by management to ensure that the 37 workers did not resist management's order. Over the ensuing months, management continued to delay the WRWC election. Finally, in October, workers stated that BEPZA official Tahera Begum visited the factory several times, and told workers it was too close to the 31 October deadline to hold an election and therefore WRWC committee members would have to be appointed. The workers refused, and insisted on reinstatement of the 11 fired workers and an election.

At the Shaha Denims Ltd factory, Aminul Islam, the WRWC convener elected in April, was terminated soon after his election based on a charge of unspecified 'misconduct' filed by management. While admitting the firing was wrong, the BEPZA officials claimed to labour advocates raising the case that the officials could do nothing because the factory was owned by an ex-Minister who was too influential for them to compel to follow the law. On 26 July, management charged another WRWC leader, Mohammed Nurul Islam, with 'misconduct' and suspended him indefinitely. Despite receiving a written appeal, BEPZA failed to investigate, intervene, or take any other action in this case.

Meanwhile, Alfa Package Ltd. suspended the WRWC convener, Masud Munshi, and another WRWC committee member, Nurul Amin, on unsubstantiated 'misconduct' charges which workers claimed where connected to their work as leaders of the WRWC. When these workers filed complaints to the BEPZA and to the General Manager of the Dhaka EPZ, no action was taken to resolve the case, and no formal reply to their written appeals was made. Finally, on 8 October, Nurul Amin was informed by factory management that the BEPZA Chairman had agreed to Amin's firing – despite the fact that at no time was Amin given the opportunity by BEPZA to provide evidence or reply to the company's allegations against him.

Zong Shine Textile Industries Ltd temporarily suspended WRWC leader Rezaul Karim in March for unspecified 'misconduct' charges, and then in May extended his suspension without pay indefinitely, effectively firing him. Rezaul Karim made repeated requests to the BEPZA and the General Manager of the Dhaka EPZ to set aside this illegal suspension order but his appeals were apparently ignored.

Red Point Jackets Ltd factory owner Masud Rana filed criminal cases in July against WRWC convener Ramjan Ali, and six other WRWC committee members, for alleged crimes, presumably committed during their work as labour activists. Management then issued suspension orders without prior BEPZA approval. Ramjan Ali was jailed by police and refused bail for months, while the remaining six workers were allowed to post bail and were released. In November, workers stated that BEPZA officials told the seven workers it could never force Red Point management to accept them back into the factory and so the seven workers should resign in exchange for a termination payment.

At LSI Industries, Kabir Hossain, the convener of the WRWC, was issued by management with a letter of misconduct after forming the WRWC in May, and then was terminated in mid-June. After strong representations by Solidarity Centre (the AFL-CIO's American Center for International Labour Solidarity) and other worker advocates, BEPZA issued a letter to LSI industries informing them that the termination was contrary to the law – but then failed to take any action to enforce its order.

Shah Alam, a core member and activist of the WRWC, was suspended indefinitely on specious grounds of 'misconduct' by Youngone Hi-Tech Sportswear Industries Ltd in October. An appeal was filed with BEPZA.

SG Wicus (BD) filed a criminal case against 16 workers in the factory, including four WRWC members, on 26 August. The WRWC members were suspended without pay.

BEPZA and Government frustrates efforts to form Workers Associations (WA) in EPZs: On 1 November, workers had the right to apply to form WAs but BEPZA failed to devise and provide the "prescribed form" needed by the workers to apply to establish the WA. Workers and their advocates reported they believe this is a willful delaying tactic by BEPZA, in part because BEPZA had more than two years to prepare the necessary paperwork and procedures for this transition yet failed to do so.

Nevertheless, workers continued to try and exercise their rights to form WAs – and were met with immediate and unmitigated anti-union hostility by employers.

The WRWC at the Jeans 2000 Ltd factory, located in the Chittagong EPZ, polled its members in November and found that 80 per cent of them were prepared to form a WA and wanted to join BIGUF. Management ordered workers to cease considering BIGUF as a potential partner. As the WRWC planned in December to seek WA status, an intimidation campaign was started, and the convener of the WRWC was regularly followed by unknown men wherever he went, and especially while travelling between his home and the factory. Meanwhile, management identified and indefinitely suspended seven workers (including the two most active WRWC members) for allegedly 'violating BEPZA regulations.'

In November at Youngone Sports and Shoes Industries Ltd, based in Chittagong EPZ, the management started disciplinary hearings against two activist WRWC members, Dipok Kumar Das and Prodip Kumar Das. Workers at the factory stated that the two workers were targeted because they are leaders in the effort to establish the WA at the factory.

Firings, intimidation, and use of thugs – favourite employer tactics to stop unions in the ready-made garment sector: All over Bangladesh, union leaders and members were routinely harassed, verbally and physically threatened, beaten, suspended, and fired for pursuing union activities. Most employers operated with total impunity and without regard for legal protections for trade union rights.

Workers at Sum Sweater Ltd decided in June to try and organise a union to protect their rights, but when management found out in August they investigated to find who the ring leaders were, and then summarily fired 63 workers, most involved in the union. Virtually all of the workers planning to join the executive committee of the union – which was to be elected in a matter of days – were terminated. Further intimidation of the remaining workforce after the firings effectively brought to an end the union organising effort.

When the workers at New Modern Garments registered a union on 10 August, the management immediately moved against the local union executive and key worker leaders, removing 15 of them from the factory through intimidation, false charges, forced resignations, and transfers.

Workers at SAS Fashion Wear Ltd organised and registered their union on 3 August, but within two months the union leaders were fired and out on the street. Management called in 22 union activists, including the President, Secretary-General and the local union committee, and summarily terminated them on 11 October without providing any reason or rationale. The factory also declined to give them a signed letter of termination.

Also in August, the management at Haesong Corporation Ltd and Haesong BD Ltd took matters even further by hiring thugs to make death threats against two workers active in trying to form a union at the factories. When the workers refused to heed the warnings, the thugs intervened and forcibly removed them from their residence near the factory and transported them back to their rural villages in the countryside – effectively terminating their employment and their efforts to organise the union.

A union was organised in the Merchantex Company BD Ltd factory in August, during which time management identified and fired one union activist. In September, the union was formally registered, but the company refused to recognise the union and began harassing its leaders. Management then put up a notice in the factory stating that an illegal strike had taken place, and the factory would take legal action against those responsible. After the Eid festival, when workers returned to work on 29 October, 18 union members were denied entry to the factory, effectively firing them. Efforts to have the workers reinstated fell on deaf ears, and at the end of the year, the union members were still out of work.

Florence Garment also employed the strategy of identifying the workers organising the union and then firing them en masse. A total of 140 workers were fired in August, after being forced to sign blank pieces of paper – with the threat being that unless they signed and left the factory peacefully, they would be handed over to a band of thugs hired by the factory. A similar ploy, forcing workers to sign blank sheets before terminating them, was used by Harim Textile against four workers leading the effort to organise the union in that factory.

At Golden Refit Garments Ltd the effort to organise the union resulted from workers' demands that the factory pay wages on time, and in the correct amount. The unsatisfactory situation at the factory led the union organisers to run a strike on 15 September that continued for two days. On 17 September, as the four core workers leading the strike were heading home from the factory, they were surrounded by a gang of thugs who abducted them and beat them with wooden rods. All four workers were forced to sign blank pieces of paper, and leave the factory and their residences near the factory.

At High Tex Export Ltd, a union was officially registered on 15 August. Management fired four key union leaders in October, including the President (Mahidul Islam) and General-Secretary, but refused to provide any written explanation for the firing. The four workers were simply ordered to stop coming to the factory. To emphasise the point, the fired workers were repeatedly visited by a gang of thugs that they believe were hired by factory management, and the intimidation became severe enough that the General-Secretary had to change residence. The union is affiliated with the National Garment Workers Federation.

In October, management at Aboni Knitwear Ltd manufactured a fraudulent resignation letter from one of the key union leaders and used the letter to force her out of the factory. The management then allegedly hired thugs to intimidate her and her husband, a former union activist at the factory, and force them to move out of their residence near the factory.

BIGUF was organising unions in three factories owned by the same owner: Greystone Sweater Ltd, Shirts Mine Ltd, and Power Vantage Wear Ltd. After an apparently good start in building positive labour relations, resulting in the signing on 12 September of Memorandums Of Understanding (MOUs) between the unions and the employer, the employer moved to fire the union leaders in all three factories in October. Problems started when thugs started intimidating union leaders at Greystone Sweater. Worker protests brought subsequent problems with police, and by mid-October, 23 workers from Greystone were in jail, and mass firings at all three factories had removed the union executive committee members in each of the factories.

When the workers at Dekko Accessories Ltd applied to register a newly organised union in October, the management immediately reacted by firing the President, General-Secretary, and Finance Secretary of the union. Workers also accused management of hiring a gang of local thugs to visit the houses of union committee members and intimidate them. In December, the employer fired all the remaining members of the union executive committee.

At MN Sweater Ltd, workers organised a union and sought registration on 26 November. The next day, when factory management learned about the application, it indefinitely suspended 90 workers, including the entire executive committee of the new union. At the end of December, after local police allegedly intimidated the suspended workers, five of the executive committee members were dismissed.

In November, New Town Knitwear terminated Mohammed Shahidul, a key labour activist, in retaliation for his close coordination with BIGUF in their effort to organise a union in the factory.

Harassment of unions and supporting organisations by government: The Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers' Union (BIGUF) reported significant and consistent harassment by national intelligence authorities owing to the federation's efforts to support workers in the EPZs. On 13 October in the middle of the night, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in Chittagong detained Chandon, the International Secretary of BIGUF, and interrogated him throughout the night about BIGUF's activities to organise workers in the EPZs. RAB officers accused BIGUF of violating the EPZ law and ordered that BIGUF should cease its involvement with workers in the zones. Before releasing Chandon, they also warned him that he was under observation and not to undertake any provocative acts, and added that the RAB would hold BIGUF directly responsible for any industrial unrest that occurs in Chittagong.

The Ministry of Labour and Employment (MOLE) showed its hostility towards BIGUF's work with EPZ workers by fundamentally mischaracterizing a meeting held between BIGUF leaders and MOLE officials on 7 September. BIGUF maintains that the only agreement that resulted was for BIGUF to retrieve union "service cards" distributed to workers in the EPZs. However, the MOLE fabricated an account of the meeting which stated that BIGUF had also agreed to cease conducting any activities in EPZs, would not train EPZ workers, would advise EPZ workers seeking legal assistance to seek such assistance from BEPZA, would excise from a brochure any mention of EPZ workers, and finally, would restrict its activities to factories covered by the Industrial Relations Ordinance where the union is already affiliated to BIGUF. BIGUF vehemently denied agreeing to these provisions, and stated they would not be bound by MOLE's account of what had occurred in the meeting.

The Solidarity Centre (the AFL-CIO's American Centre for International Labor Solidarity) continued to receive numerous "visits" and ad hoc investigations amounting to harassment from the government's intelligence services, Police Special Branch, and other official authorities, despite being legally registered to operate in the country. The office received four visits from Special Branch police in December after publishing a pamphlet for EPZ workers that explained their rights under law. Numerous sources confirmed to the office that it was repeated requests to the Special Branch police from the BEPZA that prompted the investigation.

The authorities seemed particularly concerned about work being done to assist EPZ workers, and collaboration with local trade union partners to insist that the government enforce its labour laws. The work of the Solidarity Centre to help workers contact international labour rights organisations and overseas garment companies/brands to rectify problems at the factories was also evidently unwelcome.

Assault on the Bangladesh Cha Sramik Union (BCSU): Police arrested three top leaders of the BCSU on 24 March – Rajendra Prashad Boonerjee (President), Narendra Boonerjee (General Secretary), and Bupesh Sind – and brought them to a local police station in Srimongal. The charge was one of financial impropriety which had already been investigated and found groundless the year before by the trade union registrar. When BCSU members gathered outside the police station, they were brutally attacked with excessive force by police, and dispersed. Despite the trumped-up nature of the charge, bail for the three men was denied twice on 28 March, and again on 2 April. The three leaders were finally released on bail on 13 April.

An investigation of the case found that the charges were filed by a person who was not a member of the BCSU, and therefore lacked standing. Moreover, the police proceeded with the arrest without reference to the relevant labour authorities empowered by the IRO to initiate cases involving violations of the IRO. The BCSU accused a Member of Parliament with vested interests threatened by the union of being behind the harassment arrests of its top leaders.

Senior garment trade union leader attacked: On 14 April, Roy Ramesh Chadra, the General Secretary of the Bangladesh National Council of Textile, Garment and Leather Workers and an executive committee member of ITGLWF-TWARO, was assaulted and seriously injured while returning home at evening after a meeting. The assailants were not known to Chadra, and have not been apprehended.

Union leader shot at for opposing privatisation: On May 10, gunmen pumped six bullets into the car of Mohammed Firoz Mia, the President of the Bangladesh Telejogajog Sramik Karmochari Union which represents workers at the Bangladesh Telephone and Telegraph Board and was actively campaigning against privatisation, as he was being driven to work. He luckily escaped uninjured. The union held a mass protest until police agreed to investigate, but no arrests were made.

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