Bangladesh: Protesting Tobacco Workers Killed by Government Militia; Business Leaders

Two workers from the Akij Bidi tobacco factory in Daulatpur district were killed by government militia yesterday, as they protested to demand payment of unpaid wages and seek a pay rise.

Mintu Hossain and Rokibul Islam were amongst 3,000 workers outside the factory gates when security guards opened fire, killing Mintu instantly and fatally wounding Rokibel. Some 35 other workers were injured, at least ten of them with bullet wounds, according to Bangladesh’s Daily Star newspaper.

Factory manager Khurshid Alam, who police allege ordered the government’s Ansar militia to fire on the workers, has been arrested. The Daily Star reports that company owner Afil Uddin, an Awami League member of parliament with extensive business interests, has called for an investigation.

“The top management of the company, and the Home Ministry officials responsible for the militia, must be made to answer for this crime. Powerful and well-connected business owners should not be allowed to rip off their workers and then use their political influence to escape responsibility for killings,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

Leaders of the Akij Bidi Labourers’ Union described yesterday’s protest outside the factory as peaceful, as the workforce combined stop-work actions with public assemblies to press for decent wages.

Burrow has written to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheik Hasina demanding justice in the case, and ITUC representatives currently in Bangladesh are seeking a meeting with the country’s Labour Minister.

“This terrible attack is one more example of the sustained attack on the rights of Bangladeshis at work, and the government must face up to its responsibility to protect ordinary people rather than simply backing the interests of the rich and powerful,” said Burrow.

Link to Survey Chapter on Bangladesh