For an inclusive economic growth, safety inspections are essential in non-export manufacturing industries to ensure safety for workers, trade analysts and rights activists say.
In light of the fire incident at the factory of Tampaco Foils Ltd in Tongi, Gazipur on September 10, which killed at least 35 people and injured more than 150, the issue of workplace safety in non-export manufacturing industries has once again come under spotlight.
“In true sense, if Bangladesh wants to attain an inclusive economic growth, it will have to ensure safe workplace for all the manufacturing units instead of focusing on export-oriented industry only,” said Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).
The government as well as the donor agencies and rights groups are usually more focused on the export-oriented sector, especially the ready-made garment (RMG) industry, Mustafiz told the Dhaka Tribune.
But it is not fair that workers in a certain sector would get priority over workers in other sectors, and it would create an imbalance which is much likely to hamper the overall growth of economy, he added.[caption id="attachment_21070" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Tampaco factory in ruins as firefighters put out the last flames Dhaka Tribune/Rajib Dhar[/caption]
“Tampaco fire is a reminder for the Department of Inspection of Factories and Establishment (DIFE) to step up inspection in all the factories and guarantee safety,” said Srinivas Reddy, country director of International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Bangladesh.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, he said the incident highlighted two things that were of utmost importance: ensuring safety in every workplace, not just the RMG industry; and employment injury benefits programme following ILO Convention 121, which would provide adequate amount of compensation to injured workers.
“We are encouraging and supporting the DIFE to reach out to the factories that do not have the standard safety measures in place, and implement and monitor said measures as per Bangladesh Labour Act, 2013,” Reddy added.
The Tampaco fire has drawn the government's attention to the negative impact of keeping the non-export industries out of safety inspection as well.
“After the fire at Tampaco, the government is focusing on factories which work with boilers, chemicals and plastics, as well as explosive and flammable material, for workers' safety in order to avert further untoward incidents,” said Syed Ahmed, inspector general of DIFE.
Under the new initiative, big industries will get priority in identifying the risks, Ahmed told the Dhaka Tribune. “I hope it will be done within the next couple of months.”
He said the DIFE was also considering a crash course on safety issues for both factory owners and workers.[caption id="attachment_21071" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Firefighters and emergency services firmly devoted themselves to putting out the fire Dhaka Tribune/Mahmud Hossain Opu[/caption]
The rights groups and trade analysts have also put stress on the necessity of implementing labour rules for safe workplace.
“There are provisions under the new rules of the labour act which must be enforced, and entrepreneurs must abide by the law,” said CPD executive director Mustafiz.
Furthermore, trade union leaders and workers have to practise unionism as per the law to push forward their demands and have them met by their employers,” he added.
According to the DIFE data, there are 23,218 registered factories under 42 industrial sectors around the country, more than 5,000 of which are RMG factories.
However, there are about 3,500 export-oriented RMG factories, of which over 3,000 has been inspected by global retailer platforms and national authorities following the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013.
The factories in 41 other sectors remain out of the scope of safety inspection, posing a threat to workers' safety in those sectors.