I am Monira Akter, working with Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF) as an organizer for the past six years. I saw how my elder sister was abused and sometimes beaten in her garment factory, and that is when I decided that I wished to work for the rights and safety of all those brothers and sisters of the factory.
They were forced to work long hours without extra payment, sacked if absent for a day or two and had no trade union to voice their claims. It distressed me when I saw my sister returning home at night tired and sick with no time to spend with us or her husband. But we had no choice as we had five mouths to feed with no father or elder brother.
After the Rana Plaza disaster, there have been major changes which had not occurred in many years. Building and fire safety gave a sense of security for the workers in their workplace. They feel they will not lose theirs or their close ones’ lives in an accident just like Rana Plaza and thus are able to work feeling secured. Moreover, I am proud that we have been able to create leaders among the workers by organizing them into trade unions. In the past this would have been close to impossible.
I have worked day and night, went to gates of factories to talk to the workers, walked with them to their homes to earn their trust and to make them aware of how they are being exploited and deprived of their rights. So far, we have united 2,250 workers into trade unions and they say that we give them courage and hope. For me, these words are enough to encourage me to work on for them.
Some of their stories moved me. Once one of them told me that due to some reason a worker was ordered to leave the job immediately but instead she called our office right away. The manager seeing this told her to come back and keep working! This showed us how relevant we have become to the lives of workers and how we can influence the decisions of factory owners on worker rights.
A second story was about Mitu, a worker who was pregnant and submitted her resignation to management. She requested her benefits, but the manager would not allow it. She came to BIGUF informing us about her situation and we promised her our assistance. After many negotiations and heated conversations, we managed to extract all the dues she [legally] deserved without having to resort to legal proceedings.
This is how the garment workers lives are being transformed. The fact that I receive salary for this work is not my motivation. My husband discouraged me to work in this but I still adhere to my principles and wish to stay beside the workers who need of me.