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Fearless Morjina overcomes all odds to negotiate a CBA at her factory

Fearless Morjina overcomes all odds to negotiate a CBA at her factory

Morjina started working in the RMG sector as an operator in 2004. A mother of 2, she moved to Dhaka from Dinajpur for garment work. She has no formal education because her parents were too poor to send her to school.

While Morjina had been familiar with unions, her interest in organizing really developed in the aftermath of Rana Plaza collapse in 2013. At the time, she was working in a factory that was not unionized and there was little awareness among workers on the Labour Law and their rights. After Rana Plaza, the government raised the minimum wage in the RMG sector. However, at Morjina’s factory the new minimum wage was not implemented. She had heard that Awaj Foundation helps workers learn about their rights and unionization. So, she took initiative to pay for the transportation fees of over 40 coworkers and brought them to the Awaj office on a weekend.

After receiving training from Awaj, Morjina and her coworkers decided to establish a union in their factory. Morjina played a key role in this initiative by paying for printing forms, transportation costs for trips to the Awaj office and convincing fellow workers that they wouldn’t lose their jobs if they unionized. Her lack of education meant that she couldn’t do things like filling out paperwork for the union application, but through her determination she found a way by getting help from others. Within one month she collected enough signatures in her factory of over 1,600 workers to apply for a union.

When government inspectors came to the factory in response to the union application, the management found out and started a campaign to intimidate the workers. The factory owner tried to enlist the help of the police and in one case local thugs were hired to beat up the workers when they were walking back home after work. The deputy chair of the union was beaten so badly that he had to be hospitalized. However, Morjina was not deterred. She confronted the factory management and local political leaders over the beating, presented evidence on who was responsible for the attack and had to resort to legal action against the managers and the attackers. Finally, the factory owners and management relented and agreed that no more harm would come to the workers and that the union would be allowed to operate.

As president of the Sommolito Sramik Union, Morjina continued to fight for the rights of workers and in 2017 the union negotiated a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) at the factory. The CBA includes provisions such as a 7% annual wage increase (the legal requirement is 5%), increased attendance bonus, daycare facilities and increased overtime payment. As a result of the union, the workers are also much more aware of their rights and are now more likely to speak up and demand accountability if their rights are violated.

Production at the factory has also increased. Before unionization, the factory was producing 200,000 pieces / month, but now they regularly produce over 340,000 pieces in a month. The owners have acknowledged the contribution of the union in increasing production and now they are able to make all shipments on time. The factory has also been certified by the Bangladesh Accord on Building and Fire Safety and it’s now an example to surrounding factories that having a union does not cause harm, but improves production and working conditions.

We wanted to show everyone that a unionized factory can work and that it can be better than other factories. We are now the most productive factory in our area. – Union President, Morjina

While she has already accomplished a lot, Morjina is continuing to learn and helping other others. She has received training on budgeting, nutrition and healthy lifestyles by participating in Awaj Foundation’s UP! project and she has shared these lessons with her coworkers. She has also opened a bank account for herself and have helped others do the same. She says that the trainings and support she has received from Awaj have been crucial to her success.

Although Morjina had very humble beginnings, through her determination and hard work she has transformed into an inspiring leader. She is now very well respected by her colleagues, supervisors and management at her factory. She is continuing her training so that in the coming years she can become a national-level spokesperson for workers’ welfare in the RMG sector.