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24 April, 2019 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 23 April, 2019 11:48:48 PM
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6 years of rana plaza tragedy

Ensuring RMG workers’ rights still a far cry

FAISAL MAHMUD, Dhaka
Ensuring RMG workers’ rights still a far cry

The issue of ensuring workers' right has remained largely unaddressed even six years after the Rana Plaza disaster in Savar that left 1,135 people killed and over 2,000 injured. Also, there has not been any significant change to the fate of the survivors of the country’s worst industrial disaster as they are yet to receive a full compensation.

According to industry stakeholders, the Rana Plaza collapse immediately resulted in two international-standard audit-focused initiatives. Moreover, some of the important issues, including labour rights, lying underneath the dazzling suuceess of the RMG industry came to light for the first time in the aftermath of the tragedy.

While improvements in infrastructure, fire safety, and working ambience have been made in many factories, the establishment of a healthy employer–worker relationship still remains a far cry. Factory owners still cast a wary eye on any attempt to form trade unions, even though foreign buyers called for the formation of labour platforms for betterment of the sector.

While garment owners have accepted the compliance initiatives of Accord and Alliance, most of them remain largely sceptical about the intention of foreign buyers. They say that such prescribed compliance has enhanced their production cost, but the buyers are reluctant to bear a part of the rising cost by paying higher prices.

Mahmud Hasan Khan, former vice-president of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers' and Exporters' Association (BGMEA), said the issue of ensuring workers' right

was not black and white. “It’s a complex issue with many factors,” he added.

He also said that foreign buyers were keen to keep their profit margins. “If we put pressure on them to buy our product with higher prices, they will go to countries like Ethiopia for getting the price advantage,” he added.

“We have to understand that even India will get a price advantage if we force foreign buyers to buy products with higher prices. India is taking adequate preparations to capture our market for the last couple of years,” he noted.

Khan also said that proper data was needed to understand the situation prevailing in the sector. “It’s true that many of those facts and data have been documented after the Rana Plaza incident. But still no data is available on the number of RMG workers,” he added.

He further said that the BGMEA has been working on to create a biometric database for the last eight months. “As of now, around 11 lakh garments workers have been registered with it,” he added.

About the formation of trade union, Khan said the registration of 591 trade unions in RMG sector had been completed. Among them, only 260 are active now. “Forming trade unions is not the important thing. The important thing is to realise the rightful demands of workers,” he added.

He also said that most workers were not interested in trade unions in the first place.

Nazma Akter, president of Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, said there were a deep mistrust between RMG workers and factory owners over trade unionism. “The workers too are not aware of their rights under the country’s law. They are much like union leaders in this respect. They do not have enough knowledge of the registration procedure either. This lack of knowledge makes collective bargaining a lot more difficult than it should be,” she added.

Talking to The Independent, Chowdhury Ashiqul Alam, secretary general of the Bangladesh Trade Union Sangstha (BTUS), said that if the relationship between a garments employer and employee was not based on respect, the issue of ensuring a social dialogue would not be easy. “Entrepreneurs don’t adequately value their workers. Most workers still don’t feel that they are part of the organisation they work for. Other than low wages, the issue of mistreatment by owners is important. In a proper working environment, the relationship is build upon mutual trust among employers and workers. This is absent here,” he added.

Labour leader Kamrul Islam said that after the Rana Plaza incident, discussions were held and promises made to conduct thorough physical and mental health check-ups on garments workers in different factories. “Unfortunately, very few garments factories have actually conducted such check-ups. Like other promises, it has also remained unfulfilled,” he added.

Kamrul Islam also said that though hundreds of programmes had been conducted on giving proper compensation to Rana Plaza victims, the measures taken to implement the process were significantly insufficient. “A study published by the ActionAid in this month gave a picture of the actual situation,” he added.

The ActionAid study shows that about 57.6 per cent survivors of the Rana Plaza collapse are engaged either self-employed or doing some job for some companies, while 42.4 per cent claimed that they are jobless. “Those numbers don’t say that a lot has been done for the Rana Plaza victims,” noted Kamrul Islam.

 

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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