Last year, CSW 58, Hivos in collaboration with the Dutch government organised a side event about decent work and living wage. Tribute was being paid to the more than 1.000 workers that died and more than 2000 workers that had been injured during the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh in 2013. Rana Plaza Hall was a huge garment factory - the building collapsed due to construction faults, causing the death and/or injury of thousands predominantly female workers.
The Rana Plaza disaster led to a public outcry about the appalling working conditions in the garment industry in Bangladesh, the biggest supplier for the rest of the world. Very low wages, very long hours, a lot of sexual harassment by supervisors, whilst other health & safety issues did not receive the attention that was needed, as was proved by the disaster.
At the side event last year several stakeholders expressed their hope that the disaster had shaken up the competent authorities, that ought to put measures to prevent such alike disasters in future in to place as well as provide adequate compensation for the injured and the widowed families.
At CSW 59, 2015, it became clear that again competent authorities failed the survivors and the like at a side event organised by AFL-CIO (US Confederation of trade unions) in collaboration with ITUC (International Confederation of Trade Unions). One of the survivors, breadwinner for the family though still in her teens, shared her story:
* she could not escape because of the sowing machines that fell unto and blocked her feet and legs;
* after hospitalisation of around 20 days she was send away, without being recovered fully;
* no compensation is being received until now, whilst she cannot find another job (due to her injuries);
* the supervisors always knew beforehand whenever an inspection or an audit would take place and they instructed the workers to provide a too positive picture of wages and working hours.
It seems to me that minister Ploumen should again discuss the Rana Plaza disaster with her colleague from Bangladesh in order to improve legislation.
This Bangladesh minister introduced some improvements in legislation with respect to the right to join a union. At the side event Kalpana Akter, ED of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity reported about progress: in some 200 factories new trade unions have been established, with a 65% female leadership. No progress is being made with respect to collective bargaining yet, but Akter is positive about that in the near future. "If we do not fight, we will never win". She herself started as 12-year old working in the garment sector. Akter concludeded with a plea for collaboration between trade unions, womens' organisations and NGO's. Together these organisations have to held the competent authorities acccountable for the promises they made and for future improvement of the labour conditions of women working in the garment industry.
Soon the unions in New York will commemorate the Triangle Fire in Greenwich Village 25 March 1911. Within half an hour 146 garment workers were dead or dying. The disaster led to improvement of legislation, labour inspection and a growth of organised workers. Let's hope the same for Bangladesh.
Source: Museum of the City of New York, Activist New York.
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