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Relocation of tanneries imperil workers

  • Published at 01:02 am July 21st, 2019
Tannery-Mehedi Hasan-Dhaka Tribune
Around 25,000 workers are involved in Dhaka's tannery industry Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Unemployment runs high after the relocation led to factory owners laying off thousands of workers

The relocation of Dhaka’s tannery industry from Hazaribagh may have served to bring it up to standards, but has yet to provide for the tens of thousands of workers involved in the industry.

Unemployment runs high after the relocation led to factory owners laying off thousands of workers. Almost all the workers were denied financial compensation during, and after the relocation starting from 2017.

The relocation was enforced by the government after a High Court order, in response to numerous environmental concerns. The industrial waste had severely harmed the Buriganga, and turned the air in the area pungent. 

For relocating, factory owners were incentivized in many ways – rescheduling bank loans, issuing new loans, even loans to defaulters. But no provisions were made for the workers.

In the Tannery Industrial Estate located in Savar’s Hemayetpur, factories have access to state-of-the-art facilities from effluent treatment plants (ETP) to all necessary utility services. However, the estate lacks residential infrastructure for workers, and their families even after two years following the relocation.

The estate further lacks adequate healthcare, and academic facilities, which have factored into the decision of most workers to remain in their Hazaribagh homes.

Tannery worker leaders claim, many workers remain unpaid, and unable to rehabilitate.

Abdul Malek, general secretary of the Tannery Workers Union, said at least 10,000 workers were fired during the relocation, leaving only 25,000 active workers.

Malek said: “We have been campaigning for a raise for the past five years. Workers who earn somewhere between Tk6,000-8,000 per month end up spending around Tk3,600 on their daily commute.”

The to-and-from journey takes up at least four hours every day.

The worker’s leader further said, commuting takes off precious time for workers to devote to themselves or their families.

Referring to efforts to hike wages, Malek said the lack of response from factory owners have forced many workers to shift to the RMG industry.

Touhid Mia, a 52-year-old who sells tea after being laid off from a tannery, said he had spent 38 years in the factory, and nothing to show for it. With no benefits like gratuity or provident fund to his name, Touhid struggles to provide for his family of four.

Hazaribagh’s tanneries can be traced back to 1947, with the two eventually becoming synonymous.   

Md Shaheen Ahmed, president of Bangladesh Tanners Association, said the relocation of around 125 factories out of 155 has been confirmed.  

Prof Dr SM Imamul Huq, from the Department of Environment Studies at Dhaka University, said the tannery relocation was crucial as the industrial waste caused air pollution, and adversely affected the soil, biodiversity, and ecology.

He said: “High concentration of sodium used in tanning has created permanent damage to ecology by affecting soil, and groundwater. In the long run, it may transfer to human genetics.”

Prof Huq suggested long-term remediation, and care by the city corporation, and other authorities to help recover the ecology and environment after the relocation.

Poribesh Bachaon Andolan Chairman Abu Naser Khan opined that the vacant plots in Hazaribagh can be developed by the government to provide workers with adequate housing, schools, parks, and other civic amenities.