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Testimony of Maksuda

September 30, 2004  |  Share

Maksuda is 19 years old and has worked in the garment factories since she was 11. When she first started, as a helper in 1996, she earned just 2 cents an hour and 99 cents a week. Currently Maksuda, who also frequently sews Wal-Mart garments, is earning $8.34 a week, or 17 cents an hour. Maksuda is a single mother with a two-year-old daughter. The factory at which she was working during her pregnancy cheated her of her legal right to maternity leave at full pay. Her typical work schedule is from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., working six or seven days a week. It takes her 25 minutes to walk home at night, and it is only after she feeds her child, and washes and prepares their clothing for the next day that she can go to bed, usually around midnight.

In the wake of the devastating floods, Maksuda's one-room house is still under two feet of filthy water and sewage. She has lost most of her possessions.

Click here to read the transcript of an interview with her on Dateline NBC.

Read the testimonies of Robina and Sknazma. Click here to see an NBC Dateline peice including an interview with Maksuda.

Click here to read more about the 2004 NLC Bangladesh Worker Tour.

My name is Masuma [nickname for Maksuda].

I had to go to work in the garment factories when I was 11 years old. I started as a helper. The sound of the machines was so loud and the factory was so crowded with people that it made me feel dizzy and frightened, and so sick that I vomited a lot at the beginning. It is very punishing to work so early, and I felt very hurt, but I had no choice, because my family is very poor. I never had a chance to go to school.

At the factory, we worked from 8:00 in the morning to 10:00 at night. We worked everyday, seven days a week. At most we got one day off a month. Sometimes they let us out at 8:00 p.m. That was the earliest. Two or three times each month, we had to stay working all night from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. At the beginning, I earned 250 taka a month. [$4.25]

After two months I was promoted to sewing operator. Then, I moved to another factory, and later joined the Lucid Garments factory. When I had been worked at Lucid for a year and 3 months, I became pregnant. When I was in my seventh month, one day I became sick and my head hurt. I felt weak and nauseous. I couldn't keep up with the rapid pace of production and I asked my supervisor if I could take a break to rest. He screamed back at me that he did not want to hear anything about my being pregnant. "You are here to work," he said. "No," I said, "I need to rest. I can't work as hard." He said, "Leave the factory if you don't want to work."

I was sitting at the side of my machine. The supervisor was standing over me. Then he violently kicked me, hard, in the stomach and I fell to the floor. I fainted. My co-workers picked me up. I was crying. My co-workers went to the production manager and told him what had happened, and he let me go home that afternoon, but I had to come back the next morning.

After the supervisor knocked me down, I felt my baby shift. This happened two years ago. My daughter is now almost two years old. To this day, she has a bruise on her head and we have to be very gentle with her. If you touch it, she cries. The doctor says that eventually it will heal.

I worked until I was 8 ½ months pregnant, and when I couldn't work any more I asked the factory for my maternity leave and benefits. The law says we should be paid for six weeks before the birth and six weeks after. But the management said, "No, in the factory we do not have the law of maternity leave."

They just cheated me. But we workers are obliged to accept the management's decisions, there is nothing we can do.

Each month, I have to borrow money to survive. So when I was pregnant, I could not buy good food to help my baby grow. I could not buy vitamins or iron or calcium pills. Nothing. I had to borrow 10,000 taka [$169] to go to the hospital when my baby was born, and I am still paying off that debt at 500 taka a month with interest.

Soon after my daughter was born, I had to go back to work. I am again working from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., seven days a week. Now I am earning 2,100 taka a month. [$35.14/month; 17 cents an hour].

I have been working so hard for 8 years, and I own almost nothing. What I own is just this: an old fan; a primitive wooden bed frame, but I can't afford a mattress; a broken metal rack; three pillows and 3 sheets, and 3 dresses.

I live with my mother. We have one room divided in two. We rent one side to four workers, who share one sleeping platform. On the other side is the sleeping platform that my mother and baby and I share.

I cannot remember the last time I ate an apple or an orange. I see people buy these things on the street, but I can only dream of them. We can't afford to buy fish or meat, or milk or baby food. We live on rice and lentils and water. Even living this way, I still have to borrow money each month to survive.

In the factories, we don't know who the foreign buyers are. We have no idea where the garments we make go. All we know is they go foreign. If we ask questions in the factory about such things, they say, "It is not your job to know this. Your job is to make the pants."

I never ever dreamed I would come to the United States. I had no idea where the United States was. I have never seen a picture of it. But here I am.

Now I know that it is you, American people, who buy the clothing we sew in Bangladesh. And I want to ask your help. We don't want a boycott. We need these jobs. But we want the companies to stop beating us, and torturing and abusing us. We want one day a week off. I need time to be with my daughter. The companies should pay us our overtime correctly and not cheating us as they always do. We are willing to work very hard, and with good quality. We will work 12 hours a day, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 at night, six days a week. But it is wrong to force us to work until 10:00 at night every night, and the all night shifts to 3:00 a.m. are too cruel. Also, the companies should give us our maternity leave with pay as the law says.

Charlie [Kernahgan] and Barbara [Briggs] asked me what difference it would make if I could earn 4,500 taka a month. [$75.89/month; 37 cents/hour]. For me this would be a dream. It would be a great help. I could afford to buy milk for my baby, and baby food. I could repay my loans. I could buy fish and fruit sometimes. I could buy a new dress, so I could go out once in my life without having to wear my dirty dress from work. I would like to have some savings for when I get older.

Soon we will return to Bangladesh. Thank you for listening to my story. Please don't forget the garment workers in Bangladesh.

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