On June 7, three days into a peaceful protest by workers over Coca-Cola Bangladesh management’s refusal to negotiate in good faith and the company’s application for exemption from the labour law, the union president, Abdul Kalam, was abducted and severely beaten by thugs.
The thugs work for a 3rd party contractor, Md. Shahidul Islam Shahid also known as Haji Shahid, who has several contracts with Coca-Cola Bangladesh including scrap metal recycling and waste management.
On June 6, Haji Shahid entered the Coca-Cola factory and met with management. The following day a gang of thugs approached the protesting union members outside the factory, demanding that the union president, Abdul Kalam, come and meet Hazi Shahid. Abdul Kalam refused, saying it was a labour dispute between the union and Coca-Cola management. That afternoon Abdul Kalam was taken off a public bus by Hazi Shahid’s goons and taken away. Several hours later Abdul Kalam was discovered by police and taken to hospital. He suffered serious injuries and is unable to walk.
The legally registered Coca-Cola Employees Union (CCEU) was formed in March 2021. The union submitted its first collective bargaining agreement proposal on September 8, 2021.
Although 14 negotiation meetings were held between September 20, 2021 and May 25, 2022, management made no offers or counter-proposals. Management simply told the union to revise or withdraw their demands. When the union insisted on weekly negotiation meetings to make progress, management avoided any record of the discussion by refusing to sign the meeting minutes and walked out.
At the same time Coca-Cola Bangladesh is attempting to reduce working conditions and standards by seeking a temporary exemption from Bangladesh labour laws.
On February 26, 2022, Coca-Cola management filed for a six-month exemption from the Bangladesh Labour Act , declaring the bottling plant a “seasonal factory”. This is despite year-round production. The union refused to provide a written “no objection” as required by law, preventing the company from securing its exemption.
CCEU requested an explanation of why the company is seeking status as a “seasonal factory” and how this affects job security and working conditions. Management refused to provide an explanation and instead threatened to cut workers’ incentive pay if the union does not provide a written “no objection” letter to support the company’s exemption from the labour law.
On April 12, 2022, management wrote to the union stating that they are seeking exemption from implementing eight sections of of the Bangladesh Labour Act concerning working hours and leave. The union responded that these sections of the labour law are important for workers’ rights. Management tried to pressure the union president, but CCEU still refused to provide the “no objection” letter.
On May 26, 2022, when workers received their salary for the month of May their incentives were missing. It was stopped by management as punishment for the union refusing to agree to exemptions from the labour law. This constitutes financial coercion by the company to compel union members to accept exemptions from the labour law that are detrimental to workers’ rights and working conditions.
On June 4, the union started peaceful protest actions outside the Coca-Cola factory, demanding that management respect collective bargaining rights and respect the labour law. Management accused the union of “damaging the company’s image”, but refused to hold negotiations. Instead management filed a complaint with the labour department on June 6, accusing the union of “illegal activities”.
The protests continued and on June 7, the Coca-Cola contractor, Haji Shahid, carried out the abduction and beating of the union president. While the union president remains in hospital, union members are continuing their protest action.