THE death of more than a thousand apparel workers at Rana Plaza was described as a wake-up call for authorities to take workplace safety seriously. While much work has been done in the apparel sector to improve safety, labour in the informal sector still remains unsafe. A report of the Safety and Rights Society says that at least 352 workers died in 285 workplace accidents in the past six months. In 2017, more than 426 workers died in 321 workplace accidents. Worker rights organisation Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation reports that at least 33,112 Bangladeshi migrant workers died abroad for different reasons in the past 13 years. These shocking deaths are more than just the numbers. It shows what little regard the government has for worker’s lives. Instead of investing in improving their skills and ensuring their welfare, they are treated as dispensable. Most of the deaths could have been prevented if there had been an effective monitoring mechanism for workplace safety.
The Safety and Rights Society report shows that the highest number of death took place in the transport sector. Worker\s death in construction and service sector is also significant. It shows that 40 workers died by electrocution, 39 falling from height, 24 in mudslide, 17 in wall/roof/building collapse and 9 by suffocation in septic tanks. Labour rights activists suggest that as the labour law was drafted largely considering the need of the apparel sector, the situation in other industrial sectors has not been addressed. Informal labour remains outside the purview of the national labour law. In this situation, the government needs to review the labour law and policies to create a workplace safety standard keeping to international practice. There could be sector-specific provisions, but the labour standards and safety criterion must be the same for all sectors so that employers cannot sidestep the law. Labour rights activists termed the monitoring mechanism as flawed. In the end, it is the government’s lack of political will to take punitive measures against employers that resulted in such a high number of worker deaths by negligence.
Taking into consideration the exploitative working condition in which workers toil 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 flout worker rights. While legal instruments are important, unless there is a fundamental change in the way the factory-owning, ruling elite and government view the working class, no laws or policies could bring about real change in lives of workers.
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