The Savar tragedy has once again brought to light the failure to enforce compliance in building codes and safety issues.
Labour leaders say workplace accidents cannot be termed “mere accidents” these incidents often occur due to employer negligence and the “constant failure” of the government in inspecting safety measures for employees.
They say no employers have ever been punished for such killings, being protected by their ties with business associations, particularly the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
Rana Plaza, an eight-storey building in Savar, collapsed yesterday morning while three apparel factories were running at full capacity inside. BGMEA says those factories employ 3,122 workers. At the time this report was filed, 100 persons had been reported killed and over 750 injured. Workers rescued from the building alleged that on Tuesday a crack was spotted in the building and they had expressed concerns regarding their safety but were ordered to remain in the workplace.
The companies operating in the building were New Weave Bottoms Limited, Phantom Apparels Limited, Phantom Tack Limited and Ethar Textile Limited, whose owners are members of BGMEA.
At least 112 workers burnt to death November last year when a fire engulfed the factory of Tazreen Fashion in Ashulia.
“The law enforcers are yet to arrest Tazreen Fashions owner Delwar Hossain, who is a member of BGMEA,” the vice president of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies Mohammad Mojibur Rahman Bhuiyan told Dhaka Tribune.
“The culture of impunity will prevail as long as the financial power and BGMEA membership rules over justice,” he said.
On January 30, police arrested the Smart Export Garment chairman and managing director charging them with killing seven workers, who died in a fire at a factory at Mohammadpur on January 24. The Smart export owners do not have BGMEA membership.
Labour rights activists allege that not a single owner of these buildings or the companies has ever provided “adequate compensation” to the employees or been punished for negligence. Rights activist Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmed told Dhaka Tribune, “First of all, the responsibility of providing compensation to the victims of accidents lies solely with employers. All other monetary help can be termed as grants, not compensation.”
Most of the Tazreen victim’s families are yet to receive any kind of compensation or grant. The families of only 53 of the 112 victims have received some payment. Among them, 43 received the full compensation package which is Tk600,000 but the rest say they got only a portion of the amount.
The government probe committee on the Tazreen fire, in their investigation report, had said that the owner should be punished for the deaths because he neglected worker safety but added that the blaze was “sabotage.” The committee also pointed out that the owner did not follow building codes, building an eight-storey factory where he had permission for only three floors.
OVER 2300 KILLED IN 5 YEARS
A total of 2,390 individuals working in formal and informal sectors were killed in workplace accidents, including full or partial building collapses, fire and electrocutions from 2008 to 2012, according to statistics from the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies. In 2012 alone, 708 were killed and 701 injured in such incidents, according to the data.
Rights activists and labour leaders blame the constant failures of the government with regard to enforcement of the Bangladesh National Building Code; provisions of adequate punishment and fines; and employers’ negligence in taking safety measures as the main reasons behind continued deaths in workplaces.
The Fatal Accident Act 1955, enacted to provide compensation to families for loss occasioned by the death of a person caused by actionable wrong, allows the victim’s family to seek compensation from the persons responsible.
“We cannot term such incidents “accidents” when the employer neglects workers’ safety. Such negligence can only be titled as a felony that caused death. It is murder. Unfortunately, there is no example of punishment for such negligence as far my knowledge goes,” said Sultan.
Section 309 of the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006, says, a person who commits any contravention with law, rules or policy, could be imprisoned up to four years or with fines up to Tk100,000 or both, if the contravention results in the loss of life.