More than a dozen garment factory union leaders in Gazipur, Bangladesh, have been physically attacked or threatened with violence and even death in the past two weeks, according to the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF).

The attacks are centered on garment workers seeking to form unions at factories owned by East West Industrial Park, which operates 11 factories in a large manufacturing complex outside Dhaka, the capital. More than 15 garment union leaders, fearing for their safety, have left their homes and cannot return to work.

BIGUF leaders say they have met with East West managers, who indicated they would provide for a police presence outside the factory gates where many of the attacks have occurred, but so far, have not.

Garment workers at five East West factories began forming unions in March and sought to register their unions with the government.

The government has rejected all the applications, based on flimsy reasons such as the absence of a workers’ mother’s name, BIGUF leaders say. Last year, following the April 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza, which killed more than 1,110 garment workers, the Bangladesh government began registering new unions, with more than 130 gaining legal recognition in the last year. But union leaders fear the recent rejections signal a change in course.

After the garment workers filed for registration for their unions, which are affiliated with BIGUF, East West management attempted to form company unions. Each factory-level union sent a letter expressing concerns about management’s actions to the Bangladesh labor director, and BIGUF tried to file an official complaint with police, who refused to accept the report.

Despite garment workers’ success in establishing their own unions in the past year, workers and union organizers also have been harassed, threatened and some physically attacked when trying to exercise their rights to be paid what they are owed and to work in safer workplaces. But the scale of attacks on workers at East West is alarming, union leaders say. BIGUF has documented the attacks, some of which include:

• May 11: An executive committee member of European Pantaloon Fashion Limited Workers’ Union was abducted outside the factory by approximately a dozen men, who warned him against continuing his trade union activities.

• May 12: Two executive committee members of Pantaloon Fashion Limited Workers’ Union were abducted outside the factory at gunpoint, beaten and robbed. Workers identified the men as associated with the factory.

• May 20: Two supervisors from East West Fashion Garments Limited appeared at the union general secretary’s home and abducted him, taking him to an East West contractor’s office, where he was told that he would be killed if he continued his union activism.

• May 24: A union executive committee member of European Pantaloon Fashion Limited Workers’ Union was beaten outside his home by a group of unidentified men.

BIGUF is demanding an immediate end to violence and intimidation of workers and organizers at factories in the East West complex. BIGUF also is calling on management to hold the perpetrators of violence accountable; ensure the safety of union leaders, members and organizers, as well as their family members; guarantee the safety of union leaders so they can return to work; and recognize and negotiate with the unions at its factories.

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the News from The Solidarity Center