“I used to work in a readymade garment shop and was paid five taka (less than 10 US cents) per day. A priest took me a CWAB (Catholic Workers’ Association of Bangladesh) meeting, helped me learn the alphabets and provided me with sewing skills,” Ratan Baroi, 33, of Khulna diocese, told UCA News.
Upon completion of the training, Baroi found a job in a Muslim-run tailoring shop and earned 2,500 taka (US$36) a month.
“My employer liked me very much because I worked for him with Christian values and did my best,” he said. “Now I’ve opened my own betel leaf shop but still he often invites me to his house,” Baroi told UCA News during May Day celebrations.
May Day – also known as International Workers’ Day or Labor Day – is traditionally a time for workers to rally in celebration or protest for their rights.
Catholics in various regions of Bangladesh marked May 1 under the auspices of the CWAB and its local units that have helped workers gain their lawful rights and freedom from poverty.
Jacinta Ritchil, 45, a tribal Garo Catholic from Mymensingh diocese, too is grateful to the CWAB. Her husband could not earn enough to maintain their family and would “often scold me if I asked money for family maintenance,” she recalled.
However, things changed when CWAB inspired her to open a small livestock farm with a loan it supplied. That turned her life around, she said.
“Now I can run my family well and my husband is happy with me. I’ve pigs in my farm and plan to expand it with some cows,” she said.
Jacinta Nokrek, 45, a schoolteacher and a CWAB official said the association gives vocation training and jobs. “We need to make ourselves competent, to claim our rights,” she said.
Fr Martin Mondol, a CWAB chaplain said, “We aim to make every member self-reliant.” Its several hundred members are mostly day laborers, catechists and schoolteachers.
CWAB’s national office is located in Dhaka where about 100 Catholics workers celebrated May Day with Mass, a rally and cultural program.
CWAB president Ethelbert Pinheiro told UCA News that most workers are “poor and have no security of life” and that “sometimes they are physically, mentally and sexually tortured at their workplace.”
He said his organization is trying to reach vulnerable workers and assist them through advocacy and by helping them fight for their rights.
In the coming year CWAB and the nuns plan to define a pay scale for workers and to open joint accounts for them with a credit union so that workers are assured of a provident fund.
Catholic group helps workers fight for their rights (UCA News)