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Ship breaking yard labour organization demands workplace safety

  • Published at 01:33 am September 13th, 2019
ship-breaking-yard-in-Chittagong-
File photo of a ship-breaking yard in Chittagong Courtesy

The forum leaders threatened to go for tougher programs if effective steps are not taken to fulfil their demands within the next seven days

The Ship Breaking Workers Trade Union Forum placed a 10 point demand for the safety of workers in Chittagong’s ship breaking yards.

Expressing grave concern about rising casualties in the workplace, labour rights leaders pressed home their demands at a Chittagong Press Club briefing on Thursday.

The demands include  investigating all accidents in the current year and taking necessary legal action against responsible yard owners, enforcing a Tk10 lakh compensation to the families of each victim of workplace accidents, providing workers with personal protective equipment, maintaining a database of ship breakers, disposing of the toxic elements on ships before dismantling them, abiding by labour laws and international conventions, ensuring the trade union rights of workers, following wage board pay directives, and taking initiative to make the yards safe and free of risk.

The forum leaders threatened to go for tougher programs if effective steps are not taken to fulfil their demands within the next seven days.

Reading out a written statement at the press briefing, the organization’s Joint Convener, Safar Ali, said ship breaking yard owners pay no heed to the number of workplace casualties.

“The number of casualties in this sector has risen alarmingly over the years. However, no legal steps have ever been taken against errant ship breaking yard owners,” said the trade union leader.   

“To the best of our knowledge, no ship breaking yard owner has been sued or been served an arrest warrant. Ship breaking is a very risky job. Yard owners recruit ship breakers through contractors instead of a direct recruitment process. They do not want to take liability for any workplace casualties and ship breakers are employed on a temporary contract.  

“As per existing labour law, the family of a deceased ship breaker is supposed to receive Tk2 lakh as compensation. However, the victim’s family hardly ever gets compensation. Yard owners do not follow the wage board and the workers aren't provided with personal protective equipment. The yard owners also do not abide by the High Court order of not employing workers at night,” he added.  

According to the labour organization, in the last eight months of the current year, 16 ship breakers died on the job while more than 30 workers sustained critical injuries.

As many as 66 ship breakers have died on the job in the last three and a half years. 50 workers died between 2016 and 2018.      

The organization also said that 25,000 ship breakers work at the currently, 50 to 60 functional ship breaking yards in Chittagong.

Tapan Dutt, convener of the labour organization, said: “Each ship brought in for recycling purposes must be disposed of its hazardous elements as per Hong Kong Convention 2009. However, it is hardly followed. That’s why ship breakers often get infected with critical diseases, coming into contact with toxic elements. Impoverished ship breakers take this hazardous job as they have no other options, and yard owners take advantage of the situation.”

On August 32, two workers died and five others sustained critical injuries working at the Ziri Subedar ship breaking yard in Baro Awlia of Sitakunda upazila. The deceased were Aminul, 56, and Tushar Chakma, 27.