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'I worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, with one day off per month'

Haaretz  |  August 16, 2009  |  Share  | 

Working long hours in the biting cold, in unbearable heat, without enough food and no water, and no overtime pay or sick leave were some of the conditions which dozens of Bangladeshi workers allegedly had to endure in the Israeli-owned sweat shop Musa Garments in Jordan.

"I'll never forget the horrible time I spent in Jordan," Nasrin, 25, told Haaretz over the phone from Bangladesh, adding that while she might earn less at home, "at least I will be treated with some dignity."

In order to make the phone call, Nasrin had to walk for two hours from her village to the offices of National Labor Committee, a U.S.-based workers' rights organization whose report was published by Haaretz last week.

Nasrin arrived in Jordan in May 2004, and began working in the El-Sapa factory, located in the El-Hassan industrial zone that also housed Musa Garments.

However, in January 2006 El-Sapa was shut down and its owner fled after an audit by the Jordanian Ministry of Labor exposed the harsh working conditions in the facility.

Its workers moved on to Musa Garments.

"When I thought about working abroad I went to a manpower agent in Bangladesh who told me that I could make 147 dollars a month while working 8-hour days," Nasrin said.

"I was promised housing and medical care, and the offer seemed enticing, so I decided to go. I assumed that life there would be better as a result of the dramatic salary increase."

Nasrin's expectations dissolved as soon as she touched down in Jordan.

"Conditions in 'El Sapa' were difficult, I worked 12-13- hour days, sometimes even 16 hours, seven days-a-week, and, at best, one day off per month," Nasrin said adding, that she "received 124 hours, which included overtime pay, which later turned out to be a bogus calculation."

"No one had will power to deal with them, since we were so exhausted from work."

Nasrin had hoped that the move to a new factory would bring better working conditions with it. However, the bottom fell out of those expectations soon enough.

"We were never given immigration papers in Musa, so we couldn't get out. We only traveled between the factory and the dormitory," Nasrin added, saying "it felt like prison."

Last week, Haaretz published the NLC report, which claimed that the Israeli-owned Musa Garments factory was in fact a sweatshop.

"Conditions were harsh from day one," Nasrin said, "ten workers huddled in a tiny room without water. We got small portions of inedible, sometimes rotten, food."

Nasrin added that when she "fell sick and didn't work for eight days, they deducted twelve days off my pay."

"We were living without air-conditioning or heating, even in extreme weather conditions. As time went on we felt poorer and poorer both physically and mentally, we were exhausted and sick," she said.

"We complained to the supervisors, but they did nothing," Nasrin said, adding that she only seldom saw the owner, Moshe Cohen.

"He visited the factory, but only spoke to the manger and the supervisors, never with the workers," she said, adding she assumed he "had heard of our complaints, but nothing was never done."

Meanwhile, Menachem Rahav, the court-appointed representative of the Jump clothing company - one of the Israeli companies allegedly linked to Musa Garments - ordered the immediate freeze of all orders from the plant.

Last week, Rahav met Meretz MK Ilan Gilon, who had taken it upon himself to battle Israeli companies who order from factories who abuse their workers.

"I was appalled by what I read. I'm convinced that every Israeli company should work with subcontractors who treat their workers fairly," Rahav said.

"The Jump clothing company is paying the same amount to all of its suppliers and expects them to provide their workers with the same conditions," Rahav added, concluding that there "was no reason to work with a factory such as this."

MK Gilon was pleased with Rahav's announcement, and said that "even with the difficulties Israeli textile is facing, it is unthinkable that Israeli companies would order work from factories that do not respect their workers."

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