Six years after the worst industrial disaster of the world that caused the death of 1,138 workers and left more than 2,000 others injured on April 24, 2013, Rana Plaza collapse still haunts the nation.
The woes of the injured survivors who continue to struggle to get over their disabilities gained from the accident still go unnoticed and the cries of the people who lost their near and dear ones still seemed to fall on deaf ears.
The sixth anniversary of the collapse passed amid cries for justice by victims and affected families.
The labour leaders feel that the wake-up calls went unheeded as the safety and lifestyle of the 44 million garment workers in Bangladesh who work at factories where conditions have not improved at the expected level.
The producers of clothes for well-known Western buyers earned a fraction of the total revenue generated by the sector. Living wage is not being paid to them.
In a report on Tuesday, Transparency International Bangladesh said that only 39 per cent of the reformation initiatives were looked after following Rana Plaza collapse.
‘41 per cent in progress and 20 per cent stalled,’ said the report which focused on institutional and policy reformation.
Factory owners however claimed that following the collapse, they placed highest emphasis on workplace safety, investing millions of dollars.
The sixth anniversary saw several thousand people from different walks of life gather in front of Rana Plaza at Savar, on the outskirts of the capital, demanding justice, rehabilitation and proper compensation for the victims.
Over hundred injured victims were seen on the spot lamenting the way this accident had pushed them out of the orbit of mainstream life.
They said that they failed to make a comeback and live a normal life.
Injured survivor Sheuli Akter, who used to work at New Wave Style, said that as she was unable to work anymore the daily meals became uncertain for her extended family.
‘Being a day labourer, my husband earns a limited wage and cannot afford to bear the costs of my expensive medicines,’ said 28-year old Sheuli, who has no children of her own.
What torments her most is that she would never be able to become a mother or work to support her extended family, which includes her husband’s parents.
The traumatised, injured survivors feel ignored — the prevalent sentiment is that of not getting proper attention and assistance from the authorities involved.
They are failing to continue to get follow-up treatments since they cannot afford such treatments on their own, which has deepened their sufferings.
Around 51 per cent of Rana Plaza survivors have remained jobless in last six years due to physical and mental weaknesses, while the rest 49 per cent are engaged in various types of jobs and self-employment, according to a survey conducted by ActionAid Bangladesh.
Of the 51 per cent who claimed that they could not get back to work, 74 per cent were suffering from physical disabilities and 27 per cent from mental weakness, said the survey report unveiled in April.
In the survey, ActionAid used a database of 1,400 survivors and followed up with 200 over phone, seeking information on their physical and psychosocial well-being and overall income condition.
The survey found that the condition of 20.5 per cent of the survivors was getting worse. It also said that of 51 per cent was more or less stable and that of 28.5 per cent was completely stable.
Family lives of many injured survivors of Rana Plaza collapse have been shattered in the last six years.
Most of them are worried about their future as the government took no initiative to provide their treatment or rehabilitate them to ensure their return to mainstream life.
They said that their life became burdens to themselves as they see no hope of support from anywhere.
New Wave Style Ltd’s quality inspector Shirina Khatun survived the devastating collapse, though she lost both her legs in the accident.
Being paralysed from waist below, Shirina now lives at her village home, Kapalidanga, Dumuria, Khulna following long-drawn treatment at different hospitals.
Shirina needs support to walk.
‘Her husband Mizarul Islam was with her for some time but he divorced her in June 2018,’ said Shirina who was on the verge of tears.
She said that her husband was with her as long as she could provide him with a regular amount of money from the limited compensations she had received.
According to Savar Rana Plaza Victims Survivors’ Association of Bangladesh, the marital ties of at least 13 couples were broken by the Rana Plaza disaster which is a proof that conjugal life has also been affected.
But the association representatives told New Age that the number of breakups could be much higher.
A government committee formed following a High Court order immediately after the factory building collapse reported that at least 221 workers needed to go through long-term treatment.
Of them 46 workers were paralysed and 25 had to suffer amputation.
Rana Plaza collapse killed at least 1,138 apparel workers, mostly young girls and 2,000 others were crippled.
The injured workers said that they would never be able to get back to normal life in future but if they got justice, there would be peace in their minds.
But no remarkable progress was made in the trial of 14 cases filed in this connection.
No trial of collapsed Rana Plaza owner Sohel Rana and the other took place in six years since the disaster, although charges were framed in two cases against him, including the one filed three years ago.
Sohel Rana, local Awami Juba League leader at Savar, his parents Abdul Khaleque and Marzina Begum and five apparel factory owners were named in 14 cases, including 11 cases filed with the Labour Court.
Although Sohel Rana and 40 others were charged on July 18, 2016 in a case filed on murder charge, none of the 594 prosecution witnesses were examined yet.
Of the 41, only Sohel Rana was in custody while 32 were on bail and six were still in hiding and two died in the meantime.
Additional public prosecutor Mizanur Rahman said that the witnesses could not be examined as the High Court had stayed the proceedings.
He said eight accused former Savar municipal mayor Bangladesh Nationalists Party leader Refatullah and former councillor Mohammad Ali, Abul Hossain, Shahidul Islam, Yusuf Ali, Abdus Samad, Jamsedur Rahman and Belayet Hossain obtained the stay order on different dates challenging the framing of charges against them.
Refatullah and Mohammad Ali got the proceeding stayed on May 9, 2018 and December 12, 2018 while the rest of the stay orders had already been withdrawn, the prosecutor said.
He said that the attorney general had been requested to take steps to get the stay orders withdrawn to pave the way for the trial.
Attorney general Mahbubey Alam, however, said that the public prosecutors should have persuaded him to seek withdrawal of the stay orders as there were thousands of cases he had to deal with.
Garment Sramik Odhikar Andolan leader and Bangladesh Textile Garment Workers Federation president Mahbubur Rahman Ismail said that a special tribunal was a must to complete the trial of such systematic killing of mass people.
The collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza that housed five apparel factories at Savar, on the outskirts of the capital, robbed happiness of countless families as their bread earners permanently lost their ability to work.
Following the Rana Plaza collapse, two buyers’ platform Accord and Alliance conducted structural, fire and electrical safety inspection in more than 2,300 apparel factories.
At the same time, the government in association with the International Labour Organisation launched an inspection programme for the rest of the apparel factories which were not on the lists of the Alliance and the Accord.
The government-ILO initiative conducted its initial safety inspection in 1,549 export-oriented garment factories.
Accord-listed factories completed 90 per cent of remediation work by January 2019 while alliance-listed factories completed 93 percent of remediation by December 2018.
The factories under national initiative, however, made poor progress in fixing safety faults in the past six years, according to the government statistics.
Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments data showed that the factories inspected under the government-ILO initiative made 29 per cent progress in remediation.
‘The factory standard in Bangladesh is no doubt better than any other RMG exporter country. More than 150 green factories have been established in Bangladesh in the past six years,’ said Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association immediate-past vice-president Mahmud Hasan Khan.
Responding to the wake-up call, factory owners invested Tk 3-10 crore in their factories to ensure workplace safety and the sector made tremendous development in structural and fire safety, he said.
‘Now the safety standard of Bangladesh’s readymade garment sector is higher than any other country and we have to strengthen our monitoring to make this achievement sustainable,’ Mahmud said.
Centre for Policy Dialogue research director Khondoker Golam Moazzem, however, said that the immediate response from the government and factory owners was appropriate but the institutional capacity needed to achieve long term objectives is yet to be built.
He urged the government to strengthen Remediation Coordination Cell for proper monitoring of apparel factory remediation.
He also emphasised the establishment of Industrial Safety Unit to ensure industrial safety in the country.
The economist urged the government to make a legal framework for compensation and establish a specialised hospital for workers.
Bangladesh Garment Workers Solidarity president Taslima Akhter said that after the deadly man-made disaster she and the other labour leaders pinned hopes on the government’s initiatives. They thought it would be sincere about the workers safety and rights after the loss of so many
TIB report unveiled that the wage of apparel workers in Bangladesh has in real terms decreased by 26 per cent although the factory owners claim that they had raised the wage by 23 per cent in the new wage structure as declared by the government in January this year.
It also said that garment workers’ minimum wage in Bangladesh was the lowest among the competing countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and India.
The anti-graft watchdog unveiled the report a day before the nation observes the sixth anniversary of Rana Plaza collapse, the worst industrial disaster of the world.
TIB executive director Iftekharuzzaman said that they believed that the Rana Plaza had collapsed for lack of good governance.
TIB researcher Nazmul Huda Mina said that garment factory owners claimed that they had increased wage by 23 per cent but the real wage of the workers was 26 per cent less than what they
He explained that in 2013 the minimum wage for grade VII workers was Tk 3,000. As per the law, the wage would have reached Tk 3,829 by the end of 2018 after adding five per cent yearly increment.
Now, the wage for the grade should be Tk 5,207 if the wage was increased really by 36 per cent as the owners claimed.
But the workers’ basic wage stands at Tk 4,100, which is Tk 1,107 less than the real wage.
The organisation also found that after the wage hike, production target was increased by 30 to 36 per cent in different factories.
TIB conducted the research on 80 factories situated at Savar, Dhaka, Gazipur and Narayanganj between May 2018 and April 2019.
It also said that following the wage hike movement in January, some 10,000 apparel workers were terminated from 168 factories and 35 cases were filed against 5,000 workers.
Garment Workers Trade Union Centre organising Secretary KM Mintu said the government and the factory owners were obstructing trade union formation by the apparel workers.
Workers said that life after the declaration of new wage became difficult as the factory management has increased their production target 30 to 36 per cent.
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