Sri Lankan state workers strike, protesting high taxes
Sri Lankan health, railway, port and other state workers were on a daylong strike Wednesday to protest against sharp increases in income taxes and electricity charges, as the island nation awaits approval of an International Monetary Fund package to aid its bankrupt economy. Most government hospitals around the country suspended their outpatient clinics because doctors, nurses and pharmacists were on strike. The railways operated fewer trains and armed soldiers guarded carriages and train stations fearing sabotage. Trade unions say the increase in taxes and electricity charges have hit them hard amid difficulties from the country's worst economic crisis. They have threatened to extend the strike indefinitely if the government fails to address their demands. Also Read: Sri Lanka leader says IMF deal imminent after China’s pledge The government says it was compelled to raise taxes to strengthen state revenue and electricity charges to cover production costs, key prerequisites to unlocking the proposed $2.9 billion IMF package. Authorities say they managed to operate some trains and most state banks despite the strike. IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said last week the fund's board will meet on March 20 to consider the final approval of Sri Lanka's bailout package after China gave crucial debt restructuring assurances. Sri Lanka announced last year it was suspending repayment of its foreign loans amid a severe foreign currency crisis that resulted in shortages of fuel, food, medicines and cooking gas, along with long power cuts. The crisis led to street protests that forced then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and resign. President Ranil Wickremesinghe, since taking over last July, has managed to end the power cuts and reduce shortages. The Central Bank has said the country's reserves have improved and Sri Lanka's rupee has started to strengthen after crashing last year. The Central Bank has wrested back control of foreign currency trade from the black market, the monetary authority says. However, critics say the strengthening of the currency might be linked to import controls and that it is bound to weaken once the country reopens for imports. Wickremesinghe told Parliament last week that difficult reforms are needed to remain on course with the IMF program. Sidestepping them, as the country has done on 16 previous occasions, could spell danger, he added, noting that any breakdown would compel Sri Lanka to repay $6-7 billion of foreign debt every year until 2029. However, he found no support from the opposition parties and the public, who say he is shielding the ousted Rajapaksa family from allegations of corruption, which they say caused the economic crisis, in return for their support for his presidency.
2 workers killed, 5 hurt as under-construction building's roof collapses in Gazipur
Two construction workers were killed, and five others injured as the roof of an under-construction apparel factory collapsed in Sreepur Wednesday, the fire service said. The deceased were identified as Ariful Islam, 28, from Gazipur's Kaliganj upazila, and Sree Mukul Chandra from Dinajpur's Chirirbandar upazila. Another worker, Md Mamun Mia (28), from Kurigram's Kachakata was critically injured. He is now receiving treatment at the hospital. The identities of the other two workers could not immediately be confirmed. The incident took place at Hams apparel factory in Sreepur municipality's Bhangnahati area. A few workers were trapped under the debris. Iftekhar Hossain Raihan Chowdhury, station officer of the Sreepur fire service, said two bodies have been recovered so far. "The rescue operation is still on." Read more: Worker killed in Chuadanga boiler blast
On outskirts of Doha, laborers watch World Cup they built
Far from Doha’s luxury hotels and sprawling new World Cup stadiums, scores of South Asian workers poured into a cricket ground in the city’s sandy outskirts to enjoy the tournament they helped create. Unlike the official FIFA fan zone near Doha’s pristine corniche, this one has no $14 beer or foreign tourists. There are few food options beyond deep-fried Indian snacks, scant soccer jerseys in the crowd and even fewer women. Instead, the grassy pitch in Asian Town, a neighborhood of labor camps, is packed with migrant workers from some of the world’s poorest countries. They power Qatar, one of the world’s richest, and helped accomplish its multi-billion-dollar stadium-building effort. Their treatment has been the controversial backstory of the 2022 World Cup, ever since Qatar won the bid to host the soccer championship. They can face low wages, inhospitable housing and long hours, often in the scorching heat. But on Friday night as the Netherlands played Ecuador, the bleachers of the cricket stadium heaved with workers reveling on their one day off of the week. The lucky ones scored a small number of World Cup match tickets that went on sale for just 40 riyals ($10) — a special cheaper ticket category for Qatar residents. But for those who can’t afford to go to gleaming stadiums, the giant screens in Asian Town have become a key glimpse into the tournament that has reshaped the tiny emirate. “Who can afford to go? I keep 400 riyals ($109) a month in my pocket,” said Anmol Singh, an electrician, who sends the rest of his $600 salary to his parents and grandparents in Bihar, eastern India. “I work to give it all to them.” Read: Japan eye World Cup knockout stage with win against Costa Rica Even if meager by Western standards, the salaries of migrant workers in Qatar and across the oil-rich sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf often exceed what they could make back home and serve as lifelines for their families in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Workers in the fan zone who spoke to an Associated Press journalist on Friday said they coveted their jobs in the country, which has strict laws on speech. The yearslong boycott of Qatar by four Arab nations also stoked nationalism among the migrant workforce that makes up some 85% of the country’s population. Kaplana Pahadi, a 21-year-old cleaner from Nepal, strolled through the crowded cricket stadium with three co-workers she called “my family.” Decked out in a maroon Qatar jersey, scarf and cap, she said she moved to the energy-rich emirate over four years ago to pay medical fees for her mother, who developed heart problems after her father’s death. “She’s always sick,” she said. “I want to help her.” At half-time, the floodlit stadium became a riot of music and dance. A celebrity Indian emcee whipped up the crowds as Hindi pop blared. Some men hoisted themselves up on the shoulders of their friends. Others jumped up and down with excitement. Most wore jeans and T-shirts, or cream shalwar kameez — a knee-length shirt with a pair of loose-fitting trousers common in South Asia. Hundreds took out their phones to film the reverie, smiles spreading as women in LED-lit white dresses traipsed onstage. It was a stark respite from the daily grind. “These are people from companies doing hard work,” said Imtiaz Malik, a 28-year-old IT worker from Pakistan, gesturing to the crowds of men. “But any kind of work is good.” Read: Germany pin hopes on Spain match to avoid early FIFA World Cup exit He said he misses his family back in Lahore, Pakistan, and wishes he could hear their voices more often. Despite the difficulties, he said, Qatar has become his home, too. “This country is becoming better,” he said. The glaring spotlight of the World Cup has compelled Qatar to overhaul its labor system. The country scrapped the kafala system that tied workers’ visas to their jobs and set a minimum wage of 1,000 riyals ($275) a month, among other changes. Still, rights groups argue more needs to be done. Workers can face delayed wages and rack up debt paying exorbitant recruitment fees to land their jobs. Imran Khan, 28, said many young men in his hometown of Kolkata, India, dream of working in Qatar. He left his parents and brothers behind to search for work in hospitality during the World Cup. But he has yet to find a job. The competition is fierce and work harder to come by now that the tournament is underway, he said. In the meantime, he spends his days watching matches on the big screens at the cricket stadium next to the mall. The fan zone allows Khan and legions of other migrant workers to enjoy the World Cup atmosphere just a short walk from their dormitories. It also means they’re not taking the bus into downtown Doha, which is now filled with foreign fans watching games and celebrating. “I can’t explain the excitement,” Khan said. “It’s unreal.”
BGMEA for ensuring workers' health, well-being for improving productivity
Ensuring the health and well-being of the workers must be a key priority for building a better and more sustainable readymade garments (RMG) industry, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has said. "If the workers are healthy, the industry will run well. As we are increasingly focusing on enhancing the industry's capacity and productivity, it's imperative to ensure workers' health because healthy workers are more productive," BGMEA President Faruque Hassan said Tuesday at the global women leaders' organisation G100's first summit in Bangladesh. Read more: BGMEA calls for Italian investment in Bangladesh's emerging industrial sectors Planning Minister MA Mannan attended the event as chief guest. Dutch Ambassador to Bangladesh Anne Gerard van Leeuwen, founder and President of G100 Harbin Arora Rai, and Farzanah Chowdhury, G100 global chair of healthcare and wellness, also spoke at the programme. Faruque said: "We often talk about socio-economic issues like employment, empowerment, environmental sustainability, and workplace safety. But we also have to remember that health is a very important part to keep our workers well, happy and productive." "Most of our factories maintain health care centres, eye care facilities, daycare centres, fair price shops, and so on within the premises. Factories also run schools, hospitals, and other charitable initiatives for the community, and employ physically challenged people," he added. Read more: Bangladesh to stay safe, sustainable apparel sourcing destination: BGMEA Industry stakeholders need to take a more holistic approach to ensure workers' health which would contribute to making the workforce more productive and the industry more competitive, the BGMEA president said.
Water transport workers to go on strike from Nov 26
Water transport workers announced to go on an indefinite strike across the country from November 26 at midnight to press home their 10-point demand, including increasing wages. The workers’ demands include providing appointment letters, identity cards and service books. To make this strike successful, a protest rally was brought out from the Barishal river port organized by the Divisional Vessel Workers Sangram Parishad on Saturday afternoon, said Nazrul Islam, president of the Parishad. Read more: Inland water transport suspended as Cyclone ‘Sitrang’ approaches Later they formed a human chain in the port area. Among others, Bangladesh Trade Union Central District Committee General Secretary AK Azad, Labour Union Coordinator Mozammel Sikder and Harunur Rashid Sikder spoke on the programme. Read more: Inland water transport operations resume as Sitrang weakens
Musk gives remaining Twitter staff till Thursday to go “hardcore” or leave
Elon Musk says Twitter is a software and servers company at its heart and wants employees to decide by Thursday evening if they want to remain a part of the business, according to an email the new owner sent to Twitter workers. Musk wrote that employees “will need to be extremely hardcore" to build “a breakthrough Twitter 2.0" and that long hours at high intensity will be needed for success. Musk, who also heads Tesla and SpaceX, said Twitter will be much more engineering-driven, with employees who write “great code” comprising the majority of the team. Read more:Elon Musk takes over Twitter: what to expect? The billionaire, who completed the $44 billion takeover of the San Francisco company in late October, has already fired much of its full-time workforce by email on Nov. 4 and is moving to eliminate an untold number of contract jobs for those who are tasked with fighting misinformation and other harmful content. Musk has vowed to ease restrictions on what users can say on the platform. While he's received criticism, he has tried to reassure companies that advertise on the platform and others that it won’t damage their brands by associating them with harmful content. Musk has also indicated that he plans to resume Twitter's premium service — which grants blue-check “verification” labels to anyone willing to pay $8 a month - on November 29. The billionaire said in a tweet that the relaunch would take place later this month in an effort to make sure the service is “rock solid." Musk asked workers to click yes on a link provided in the email if they want to be part of the “new Twitter." He said that employees had until 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday to reply to the link. Employees who don't reply by that time will receive three months of severance, according to the email. Read more: 'Be careful what you wish for': Musk discusses Twitter, workload at G-20 forum “Whatever decision you make, thank you for your efforts to make Twitter successful," Musk wrote.
Dredger capsized during Sitrang: Bodies of 8 workers recovered
Bodies of eight workers, who went missing after a dredger sank in the Bay of Bengal as Cyclone Sitrang hit the coastal districts Monday (October 24, 2022) night, were recovered from the Bay off the coast of Mirsarai in Chattogram on Tuesday. Five of the deceased were identified as Mahmud Molla, Alamin, Imam Molla, Abul Bashar and Tarek. They all are from Patuakhali district. Read Cyclone Sitrang kills at least 29 across Bangladesh The sand lifting dredger (Saikat-2) was anchored, with the eight workers on board, in the sea around 1000 feet away from the embankment in Bashundhara area of the upazila and sank in the sea during the storm triggered by Cyclone Sitrang around 10 pm last night, Md Kabir Hossain, officer-in-charge (OC) of Mirsarai Police Station, said. Mirsarai police and fire service divers recovered the bodies from the sunken dredger around 2 pm, the OC added. Read Cyclone Sitrang aftermath: 10,000 houses in 419 unions damaged, says state minister Dredger manager Rezaul Karim said six more dredgers were kept in the area adjacent to the embankment in Bashundhara area. “All the other workers managed to evacuate to a safe place following the cyclone, but the eight workers of the dredger Saikat-2 did not return.”
BGMEA, Wagely sign MoU to facilitate financial health for RMG workers
Bangladesh Garment Manchesters and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Wagely Bangladesh Ltd have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) at BGMEA Complex to raise awareness and increase the adoption of Earned Wage Access (EWA) for garment workers in Bangladesh. On behalf of BGMEA, President Faruque Hassan inked the MoU with Wagely on Monday that aims to collaborate on making wagely’s EWA accessible to the garment industry. “BGMEA attaches utmost importance to ensuring the wellbeing of garment workers who are at the heart of the RMG industry. Since the financial wellness of the garment workers is important for us, I believe this will help garment factories,” Faruque Hassan said. He expressed hope that the initiative of wagely will a play an important role in improving the financial health of more than 4 million garment workers in the RMG sector. wagely is building a holistic financial wellness platform with EWA at its core that lets workers of partner employers access their earned salary in real-time and financial education. Read: Bangladesh to stay safe, sustainable apparel sourcing destination: BGMEA This is proven to reduce worker migration, improve productivity, and increase business savings, BGMEA said on Tuesday. “We are very grateful to receive this immense support from BGMEA and are strongly committed to increasing financial wellbeing for Bangladeshi workers” said Tobias Fischer, CEO and Co-Founder of wagely. BGMEA and wagely will jointly move forward to raise awareness and increase the adoption of EWA for the workers and support each other in educating and uplifting financial health as it expands into becoming a holistic financial platform for all users. BGMEA Vice President Rakibul Alam Chowdhury, Chair of BGMEA Standing Committee on Press, Publication and Publicity Shovon Islam, Chair of BGMEA Standing Committee on Trade Fair Mohammed Kamal Uddin, Chair of BGMEA Standing Committee on Trade Arbitration-1 M. Kafil Uddin Ahmed and Director of Giant Group Ashaab Adeeb Hassan were also present at the MoU signing ceremony.
8 killed in India elevator crash
As many as eight workers died after a platform lift at an under-construction building in the western Indian state of Gujarat plunged seven floors to the ground on Wednesday. The tragedy occurred on the campus of the prestigious Gujarat University in the city of Ahmedabad this morning, police said. Read: India’s main opposition protests rising prices, lack of jobs "Preliminary investigation has revealed the elevator carrying the workers crashed to the ground from the seventh floor, killing the eight," deputy police commissioner Lavina Sinha told the local media. A probe has been ordered into the accident, the officer said, adding that directors of the private firm contracted by the university for the construction of the building could be booked for negligence. Read:Donald Lu to visit India Sept 5-8 to deepen India-U.S. global strategic partnership Hundreds of workers die every year in work-related accidents at construction sites across the country, where safety rules are hardly adhered to.
N. Korea may send workers to Russian-occupied east Ukraine
As the war in Ukraine stretches into its seventh month, North Korea is hinting at its interest in sending construction workers to help rebuild Russian-occupied territories in the country's east. The idea is openly endorsed by senior Russian officials and diplomats, who foresee a cheap and hard-working workforce that could be thrown into the “most arduous conditions," a term Russia's ambassador to North Korea used in a recent interview. North Korea’s ambassador to Moscow recently met with envoys from two Russia-backed separatist territories in the Donbas region of Ukraine and expressed optimism about cooperation in the “field of labor migration,” citing his country’s easing pandemic border controls. The talks came after North Korea in July became the only nation aside from Russia and Syria to recognize the independence of the territories, Donetsk and Luhansk, further aligning with Russia over the conflict in Ukraine. The employment of North Korean workers in Donbas would clearly run afoul of U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed on the North over its nuclear and missile programs and further complicate the U.S.-led international push for its nuclear disarmament. Many experts doubt North Korea will send workers while the war remains in flux, with a steady flow of Western weapons helping Ukraine to push back against much larger Russian forces. But they say it’s highly likely North Korea will supply labor to Donbas when the fighting eases to boost its own economy, broken by years of U.S.-led sanctions, pandemic border closures and decades of mismanagement. The labor exports would also contribute to a longer-term North Korean strategy of strengthening cooperation with Russia and China, another ideological ally, in an emerging partnership aimed at reducing U.S. influence in Asia. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin has said that North Korean construction companies have already offered to help rebuild war-torn areas in Donbas, and that North Korean workers would be welcomed if they come. That’s a clear break from Russia's position in December 2017, when it backed new U.N. Security Council sanctions, imposed on North Korea for testing an intercontinental ballistic missile, requiring member states to expel all North Korean workers from their territories within 24 months. Russia now seems eager to undercut those sanctions as it faces a U.S.-led pressure campaign aimed at isolating its economy over its aggression in Ukraine, said Lim Soo-ho, a senior analyst at the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank run by South Korea’s spy agency. “For Russia, the idea of employing North Korean workers for postwar rebuilding has real merit,” Lim said. “Large numbers of North Korean construction workers came to Russia in previous years, and demand for their labor was strong because they were cheap and known for quality work.” Before the 2017 sanctions, labor exports were a rare legitimate source of foreign currency for North Korea, bringing hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the government. Read:UN inspectors head to Ukraine nuclear plant in war zone The U.S. State Department earlier estimated that about 100,000 North Koreans were working overseas in government-arranged jobs, primarily in Russia and China, but also in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and South Asia. Civilian experts say the workers earned $200 million to $500 million a year for North Korea's government while pocketing only a fraction of their salaries, often toiling for more than 12 hours a day under constant surveillance by their country’s security agents. While Russia sent home some North Korean workers before the U.N. deadline in December 2019, an uncertain number remained, continuing to work or becoming stuck after the North sealed its borders to fend off COVID-19. North Korea could easily mobilize possibly several hundreds or even thousands of workers to Donbas if it decides to use the laborers who remained in Russia, said Kang Dong Wan, a North Korea expert at South Korea’s Dong-A University. It’s not yet clear how lucrative Donbas would be for North Korea. Russia is short of cash, battered by Western sanctions targeting its financial institutions and a broad swath of industries. North Korea likely has no interest in being paid in rubles because of worries about the currency's purchasing power, which bottomed out during the war's early days before Moscow took steps to artificially restore its value. North Korea might be willing to be compensated with food, fuel and machinery, an exchange that would likely also violate Security Council sanctions, Lim said. Hong Min, a senior analyst at South Korea’s Institute for National Unification, said North Korea could have bigger things in mind than short-term gains from labor exports. “The United States’ strategic competition with China and confrontation with Russia have given North Korea breathing room as it steps up to join Moscow and Beijing in a united front to counter U.S. influence and promote a multipolar international system,” Hong said. North Korea has already used the war in Ukraine to ramp up its weapons development, exploiting divisions in the Security Council, where Russia and China vetoed U.S.-sponsored resolutions to tighten sanctions on North Korea over its revived ICBM tests this year. North Korea and Russia also see eye-to-eye on key policies. North Korea has repeatedly blamed the United States for the Ukraine crisis, saying the West’s “hegemonic policy” justifies military actions by Russia in Ukraine to protect itself. Russia, meanwhile, has repeatedly condemned the revival of large-scale military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea this year, accusing the allies of provoking North Korea and aggravating tensions. Alexander Matsegora, Russia’s ambassador to North Korea, has backed its dubious assertion that its COVID-19 outbreak was caused by South Korean activists who flew anti-North Korean leaflets and other materials across the border with balloons. Nam Sung-wook, a professor at the unification and diplomacy department of South Korea's Korea University, is one of the few experts who sees the labor exports beginning soon. Desperate to address its economic woes, North Korea might send small groups of workers to Donbas on “scouting missions” over the next few months and gradually increase the numbers depending on how the war goes, he said. “Interests are aligning between Pyongyang and Moscow,” Nam said. “One hundred or 200 workers could eventually become 10,000.”