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Bangladesh: Garment factories use cover of pandemic to dismiss unionised & pregnant workers

“‘We are on our own’: Bangladesh’s pregnant garment workers face the sack”, 09 July 2020

… [A]ctivists say manufacturers are using Covid-19 as an excuse to weaken unions and purge “undesirable” workers.

“[The Covid-19 epidemic] is the chance for manufacturers to handpick the workers they want to kick out of the industry – the ones with a voice, the ones who are trying to organise,” said Akter, founder and executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Workers’ Solidarity.

One of the sacked workers, Mitu, was three months pregnant when her production manager fired her … [after] 19 days of authorised medical leave … When she returned, she overheard the management discussing not wanting to pay maternity benefits. Then they fired her, citing missed work.

While firing pregnant workers is illegal, Nazma Akter, the president of the union Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF), has seen a spike since brands began cancelling orders.

Since May, she has filed 50 lawsuits on behalf of sacked pregnant workers…

Union organisers are also being targeted, according to Babul Akhter, the president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, who reports anti-trade union activities in a third of the factories where his group operates.

Mark Sebastian Anner, a professor of labour and employment relations at Penn State University … warns that the combination of massive job losses and the purging of union activists could lead to worsening conditions for employees, including forced labour.