DEATH of workers in Sylhet stone quarry is tragically becoming an ongoing and unchanging state of affairs. On Sunday, a worker was killed, as reported in New Age on Monday, when a group of some seven workers were extracting underground stones at a stone quarry in Companiganj. A large chunk of mud crashed on them, leaving the victim buried under it. In a separate incident on Saturday, another stone worker was killed while extracting stone from Bisanakandi Stone Quarry in Gonainghat upazila. In the first six weeks of current year, in seven separate incidents of landslides, 11 stone workers were killed, leaving another 20 injured. In 2017, at least 30 workers died and more than 45 became injured in 12 such accidents in the district. The routine and silent death of extraction workers raises serious concern about the role a taskforce comprising representatives from the administration, police, environment department and Border Guard Bangladesh has been supposedly working for years to stop illegal stone extraction. It also shows that workers in informal sectors are the worst victims of unjust economic situation as their rights remain in the national labour law and policy.
Many of the stone quarries, as reports say, operate illegally. While manual extraction is legally permitted, stone traders for profiteering interest allow workers to dig beyond 10 metres. After each accident, a case is filed and committees are formed to investigate the reason behind such disasters at stone extraction sites. However, the fate of the investigations remains unknown and no visible steps are taken by the local administration to contain the ongoing violation of labour law. Families of the victims complain that the traders who appoint the workers try to cover up the incidents and often manage to send bodies to village home of the deceased without informing the police as they had the backing of local influential people and ruling party leaders. Local workers’ rights activists say, a large number of workers comes from extremely poor economic background and knowingly take up such risky work to earn their living as they have no other options. The employers at stone quarry took advantage of their economic vulnerability. The government should, therefore, ensure not only justice for the deceased extraction workers, but also provide safe and proper work opportunities for people living in extreme poverty in these areas.
The government, under the circumstances, should immediately take legal steps against stone traders who employ workers violating the laws. In doing so, it must ensure that investigations are done judiciously, without political influence. It is high time that the government considered a step to bring the informal labour under the purview of the national labour law. In addition to risking lives of workers, the unabated extraction of stones in ecologically critical area is also endangering the environment. The government must, therefore, also ensure that the task force formed to monitor the extraction activities work properly.
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