It’s time to pay up
TWENTY FOURTH FEBRUARY: Ten months ago 1,135 workers were killed in the Rana Plaza collapse due to corporate criminal negligence and non-compliance with the Bangladesh Building Code 2006. Over 2,000 received immediate medical care. The disabled need long-term treatment. 285 children lost their parents.
Reports suggest that 2,515 persons were rescued alive, twelve of whom later died in the hospital. Another 199 workers remain missing. The official number of unidentified victims is currently 136. These numbers amount to a total of 3,985 people who may have been at Rana Plaza at the time of the collapse. Their bodies were buried after a DNA sample was taken. Some relatives are still awaiting DNA test results for an identity match.
TWENTY FOURTH NOVEMBER 2012: A year and three months ago 112 workers died in a fire in Tazreen Garments caused by corporate negligence and non-compliance with Bangladesh Fire and Safety Regulations.
Both Rana Plaza and Tazreen have been major disasters. They have given a strong message that the industry must be restructured for workers’ safety, and reformed to ensure workers’ participation in trade unions. Legal reform must also address the low compensation standards.
An immediate priority is the compensation for workers dead or injured in these two industries. The delay has caused untold miseries to many families and workers, whose labour supplied over 30 European and US brands and kept the wheels of industry moving in Bangladesh.
Initial rescue operations were mopped up within a month. 339 workers were severely injured, and had to undergo major operations. Some need long-term treatment for severe head injuries, pelvic fractures and backbone injuries; workers released from hospital within a few weeks are still unable to return to garment work and others may never do so.
Survival of these workers continues to be at stake. What are we doing to rehabilitate the injured workers, take care of their orphaned children and help families of dead workers? Some interim payments may have been made on an ad-hoc basis, but this is no substitute for a fair compensation. Reports indicate that approximately 700 workers received Tk. 700,000 each from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund of Tk. 1,270 million collected specifically for Rana Plaza. Three brands, Primark, Loblaw and Bon Marche, are reported to have paid Tk. 5,000 per month each to 1,629 workers for the last six months. These amounts are inadequate for families supported by a working member who may have earned from Tk. 5,000.0 to Tk. 8,000 only per month.
The process for determining fair compensation has dragged on. On April 30, the High Court had directed the GOC to set up acommittee for assessing compensation claims. These directions were acted upon only after a reminder from the High Court in September. The GOC set up two committees, one to decide on modalities for compensation claims and the second to assess rehabilitation needs of the injured. After studying various precedents in other countries, the Compensation Committee, without consultation with trade unions, has recommended Tk. 1,450,000 for families of the dead and for the seriously injured and lesser amounts for other injured workers. The Committee’s calculations seem to be modest and inadequate if one takes into account the life expectancy of young workers supporting a family of four to six persons, cost of medical care, rehabilitation as well as the pain and suffering. IndustriALL Bangladesh and SKOP had recommended compensation up to Tk. 2,800,000 based on standards of ILO 121 and best practice in Bangladesh. The Committee also recommended that funds be contributed by the brands, BGMEA, factory owners and government in the proportion of 45:18:28:9.
At a recent meeting a Rana Plaza worker demonstrated two artificial arms, which looked alright but were too stiff to allow her to work. Children have not been able to continue their education for lack of funds. Many injured workers reported that they discontinued their treatment because they could not afford to pay for it. Some workers and families gave up hope of settling their claims and went back to their remote villages.
Global markets have made textile trade a great success. Post Rana and Tazreen we have bemoaned the loss to the industry and feared the impact on Bangladesh’s export earnings. What amends have we made to the dead, on whose labour we have thrived, or to their families?
A Rana Plaza Trust Fund has been set up with the ILO as trustee to receive donations from all those involved in the trade. In Europe, 70 European brands that have subscribed to the Accord on Fire and Safety must make good their commitment. Manufacturing companies such as Tuba Group (owners of Tazreen), which own multiple export factories, must take responsibility, as should BGMEA members. The Prime Minister’s Relief Fund received substantial donations from several banks and others. BGMEA members have also collected a fund.
There should be no excuse for shortage of funds. There is no reason why these commitments cannot be met. Those who have gained from this global trade must pay for its flaws.