SINCE the independence of Bangladesh, successive governments remained indifferent towards the life and struggle of workers. The year of 2017 was no different in this regard. According to Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation, 1242 workers were killed in work place accidents, majority of the victims are young and women. While this number is not significantly higher than the year before, when 1240 workers died, it shows that the measures taken to make workplace safe is shockingly ineffective. The state minister of labour, in his response to situation, stated that the government lacks adequate manpower to inspect factories as there are only 400 inspectors for 83,000 industrial units, and there are only five inspectors to inspect and certify more than five thousands boilers in operation in Bangladesh. The workers death from the collapse of Rana Plaza, that left global and local citizens deeply aggrieved have brutally exposed the sham inspection system in Bangladesh. Under the circumstances, the labour minister’s casual remark that inspection system needs to be improved is rather a naked display of systematic apathy and indifference towards workers life.
In order to establish a just industrial relations and make workplace safer for workers, labour rights activists and organisers claimed that some changes have taken place; however, they are done to make Bangladesh more investment friendly. Recently, some initiatives are taken but they are largely focused on structural, fire and electrical safety of the factory leaving operations of the boilers outside of its purview. Since RMG units dominate the industrial sector in Bangladesh, steps taken to improve workers safety are asymmetrical. All other industrial sectors — packaging, textile and more — are not given equal attention when it comes to safety audits. The violent boiler blasts across the country in 2017 are a testament to this fact. Labour organisers also blame the labour law, particularly the compensation clause, as it has set monetary compensation for dead or injured workers so low that it amounts to license to kill. Not only the compensation law but the legal system itself, takes the side of the factory owning elite. The fact that no factory owner has ever been charged for their criminal negligence in ensuring workers safety proves this point. Therefore, the routine death of workers in Bangladesh is not merely a question of diligent factory inspection.
Taking in to consideration the exploitative working condition in which workers in Bangladesh toil their labour to earn a living, the government should immediately reform, where necessary and strictly enforce laws to prevent any future violation of their rights and give exemplary punishment to industrial owners/employers who defy worker’s right. While legal instruments are important, unless there is a fundamental change in the way the factory owning, ruling elite and government views the working class, no laws or policies could bring real change in the lives of workers.
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