Often after a factory collapses or catches fire, the authorities refuse to disclose the actual number of workers employed at the time of the accident.
After the Tazrin and Rana Plaza collapses in 2012 and 2013, respectively, although Bangladesh Garment Manufacturer and Export Association (BGMEA) claimed to have drafted a central list of workers, there are a number of factories that have not been included in it.
Labour leaders claim that the numbers are hidden to avoid responsibility of injured workers.
In 2012, 112 workers died when a factory caught fire in Nischintopur in Ashulia. Hundreds of others were injured. However, factory authorities never disclosed the actual list of the numbers of workers that were working at the time of the fire.
Later, a possible list was obtained only after the relatives of the deceased complained about it with the help of the media.
If anyone wants to know of the list of workers beforehand, authorities avoid replying by using various excuses.
Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments under Ministry of Labour and Employment published a list a year after the Rana Plaza collapse. According to the list, currently, there are 2,130,154 garment workers in total. Among them, 1,220,479 are women and 9,16,182 are men.
Regardless of the list, there is no way of knowing the actual number of casualties, as there is no existing record of the employees who were present when the accident occurred.
Labour leader and General Secretary of Ganatantrik Biplobi Party Moshrefa Mishu said: "The authorities increase and decrease the number of employed workers suiting their interests. But they are the only ones who know the accurate number of factory workers.
"If any worker is late to work, his or her name is not included in the daily roster," continued Mishu. "The same happens if someone bears grudges against a particular worker. Thus, even if a worker is present, his or her name will not appear in the roster. Then how will we know the actual number?"
Leader of Garment Workers' Trade Union Centre Joli Talukder said: "There are incongruities in the lists provided by the factory authorities. The labourers themselves do not know the actual number. We tried to find out the number at different times, but in reality, no outsider will be able to know of it."
Joli further said that if BGMEA wants, it can find out the actual number at any time, but it is mostly busy saving the authorities from troubles.
Taslima Akter from Garment Workers' Solidarity Centre mentioned the importance of a central database.
"Every factory should have a labour databse," said Taslima. "An accurate list is also needed for drafting a fee structure. But for some reason, authorities never disclose the list.
"Right after the Rana Plaza collapse, it was promised that a list would be made," she said. "After every incident, the authorities say they have no idea of the actual number of workers who fell victims to the accidents. They do this to avoid responsibility."
Taslima also said that even though BGMEA had talked about making a central list, it has not yet taken any initiative.
"The government has to ascertain the accountability of the garment authorities," said Taslima.
On the other hand, BGMEA President Siddiqur Rahman confirmed that the organization has made a list of 3,000,000 garment workers.
"Previously, a lot of factories lacked head offices," said Siddiqur. "As a result, it was difficult to get a list after any accident occurred. But there will be no further problems now, as we have already started listing the names of all garment workers."
This article was first published on banglatribune.com