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Murder of labour leader sparks protests in Gazipur

Arifur Rahaman Tuhin
27 Jun 2023 00:13:19 | Update: 27 Jun 2023 01:10:34
Murder of labour leader sparks protests in Gazipur
— File photo of Shahidul Islam Shahid

The situation is likely to become volatile in Gazipur, Ashulia, Savar and Narayanganj industrial areas following the killing of readymade garment worker Shahidul Islam Shahid, also a trade union leader, on Sunday night in front of Prince Jacquard Sweater Ltd at Tongi in Gazipur.

Kalpona Akter, executive director of Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity, partnering with the largest US-based international worker rights organisation Solidarity Center, confirmed The Business Post that Shahid was their activist and also district president of Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF).

Two workers– Mustafa Kamal, 26, and Ahmed Sharif, 35 – were severely injured and admitted to Tairunnessa Memorial Medical College and Hospital in Gazipur, our district correspondent Raihanul Islam Akanda confirmed.

Workers’ leaders claimed that the attack was carried out at the behest of the Prince Jacquard authority, saying that it was a pre-planned murder because the leaders demanded payment of due wages.

After the incident, workers started staging protests across the RMG factory zones, and trade union leaders also announced protests on Tuesday demanding justice for Shahidul’s murder. To press home their demand, they will also gather in front of the National Press Club, Dhaka in the morning.

Kalpona Akter, also president of BGIWF, filed a case with Tongi West Police Station, naming six people as murderers. Officer-in-Charge of the police station Shah Alam said that police already arrested main accused, Mazharul, and were also trying to arrest others involved with the murder.

Commenting on the issue, Kalpona Akter told The Business Post, “Prince Jacquard has not been paying wages for last three months, and Shahidul along with his co-workers was working to ensure this. That is why the factory authority hired the culprits who attacked them.”

She further said, “We are demanding arrest of the factory authority and the accused as soon as early. Otherwise, workers will take to the streets demanding justice of their leader.”

The Business Post tried to contact with Prince Jacquard Managing Director Abu Ubaida and Chairman Saef Uddin over phone to know about the incident, but they did not receive the call.

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Vice President Shahidullah Azim, however, said that the apex body primarily tried to come to know the issue. “We think the owners are not involved in the attack and murder,” he claimed.

“At least 30 workers’ organisations are working in Gazipur area. There is a possibility of their internal conflict behind the murder,” he added.

He further said, “As I know Shahidul was a heart patient, and maybe he died of heart attack. We could learn the details when medical report will come and police will complete the investigation.”

Turning down his claims, Kalpona Akter said that it was a pre-planned murder and BGMEA was trying to save the owner. “When investigation is yet to start, how BGMEA made such comment?” she questioned.

Who attacked them?

According to the BGMEA, trade union leaders, case statement, industrial police and witnesses, Prince Jacquard was not paying salary since April due to financial crisis. Their workers have been demanding payment of their outstanding salary and Eid bonus for the last two months.

On June 21, the workers staged a demonstration demanding their outstanding dues.

Finally, the owner, worker representative and Gazipur deputy commissioner held a meeting last week, and fixed June 25 for payment of wages and bonus.

The workers were waiting in front of the factory gate since Sunday morning to receive their dues. But the factory authorities did not take any initiative to pay wage to the workers till the evening.

Later, the workers resumed their protests around 6:30pm. They sought cooperation of labour leader Shahidul and two other leaders to speak on behalf of the aggrieved workers. When the labour leaders came out of the factory, some miscreants attacked them.

Shahidul and two others were seriously injured in the attack. They were rescued and rushed to Tairunnessa Memorial Medical College & Hospital where on-duty doctor declared Shahidul dead at 11:30pm.

Nandalal Chowdhury, Inspector (Investigation) of Gachha Police Station of Gazipur Metropolitan Police said, “On receiving the information, we went to the hospital and found the body of Shahidul. Legal action is under process.”

A trade union leader seeking anonymity said, “Prince Jacquard authority made agreement with Kamrul, a local influential, and some garment waste traders to carry out attack on Shahidul and his fellows. They beat them up with locally-made weapons.”

To ensure justice for Shahidul murder and arrest of Prince Jacquard owners and other accused, hundreds of readymade garment workers staged demonstrations in front of Gazipur Press Club. The workers also demonstrated in other RMG factory area over the same issue.

Kalpona Akter said that they will continue staging protests if the government fails to arrest the accused and ensure justice.

Aminul murder case yet to be settled  

Leader of Bangladesh Center for Workers' Solidarity Aminul Islam disappeared April 4, 2012 and Tangail Police found his body on April 5, 2012. Aminul’s body bore marks of torture. The incident gained international attention.

He had last been seen alive in Ashulia, a center of the garment industry near Dhaka. It is suspected that he was murdered because he was involved in seeking justice for the general workers of the garment sector of Bangladesh.

Aminul's murder case still remains unsolved, but the case gained international attention from AFL–CIO and the US State Department. The US government raised their voice several times for proper investigation into the murder.