Strengthening factory monitoring
Industrial accidents have become frequent in the country over the years. Factories have turned into death traps, killing the unfortunate workers while they are working in the factories. These death traps are not caused by natural disaster, rather in most cases they are man-made. After every accident in factory, the report reveals that the safety measures for the workers were largely violated.
For some days we have been seeing huge hue and cry across the country to save the rights and lives of the factory workers. Human rights organizations raise many demands in favour of the factory workers. Editorials and opinion pages in the dailies are found full of write-ups to address the plights of the workers. The authorities concerned are found vigilant to strengthen the factory inspection and the management of the factories are found to come up with effective initiatives to check the tragic incidents in the factories. But the question is that how far they sustain their commitment to ensure the rights of the workers? In many cases, we see the opposite scenario and the rights of the workers go unaddressed.
It is obvious that human beings take lessons from the past but how far our industrialists take lessons from the past is an issue of debate. If they took initiatives, many uneven occurrences in the factories could be averted and the workers would not have faced such cruel fatalities again and again. For example, the Tazreen Fashions fire of the year 2012 brought inhumane disaster upon the workers. Many claimed that it was not barely an accident that blazed the factory, rather it was a cruel killing of the innocent workers trapped in the factory.
Again, in 2013 the collapse of Rana Plaza building raised a cry not only in Bangladesh but also across the globe. The collapse of the building claimed more than 1132 lives of the workers and over 2500 workers faced life time injuries. Different reports claimed that undoubtedly the huge toll of death could easily be averted unless the authority concerned would allow the workers to evacuate the building early. However, frequent tragic incidents are occurring in the factories. It proves the poor condition of the workplace safety in the factories.
One thing is very is common after every occurrence, the probe committee finds irregularities in the management of flammable chemicals and substances. In many cases, despite no clearance from the government, the factory owners pile up these harmful substances inside the factories that bring disasters for the workers. Even in the recent factory tragedy in Narayanganj, the fire brigade authority found huge plastic bottles and flammable substances while running operation in the factory. How could we say that the authority responsible is combating the irregularities?
It is certain that garment sector has been one of the driving forces for our economy. This sector is contributing to ensure sustainable economic growth in the country. But we cannot let them allow to kill people with their indifferent attitudes towards the rights of the workers. The workers are our great resources.
Truly, many ill-fated workers are subjected to death traps resulting in fatalities and life-time injury. Not only that, the inequalities along with physical and mental abuse they endure at their working places in most cases go unaddressed in our society. They are not treated as human beings by the authority in most of the cases.
It is unfortunate that the government has fixed the wages of the garment workers but many garment owners do not follow the instruction of the government and try to exploit the workers. Consequently the dissatisfaction often causes labour agitation. In this sector the workers are found forced doing overtime in many cases. As a result it is causing huge dissatisfaction among them. On top of that, they are denied of maternity leave, wages and bonuses on time, in many cases.
Even during the Covid-19 health emergency they are contributing to run the wheel of the country's economy. Can we deny their contribution to lead the nation to the prosperity? Obviously, we cannot. But media sources have exposed that many factories are very indifferent to ensure the health safety for the garment workers. The workers are risking life for their livelihoods and in many cases, they have knowledge on health and hygiene leading to higher possibility of the Covid-19 infection.
Experts opine that lack of proper coordination and proper monitoring are the reasons behind rising industrial accidents; and irregularities widening the woes of the workers. As of their recommendations, they have stated that there is no alternative to strengthening the monitoring and enforcement capacity irrespective of all factories. Again, the authority responsible must be stick to maintaining transparency and accountability.
The Ministry of Labour and Employment is entitled to address and monitor the factories in the country. it has the responsibility to create a better working environment for workers by ensuring safe and healthy workplaces. They must protect the welfare of workers and encourage cooperation in a bid to contribute national development. But time has come to ponder over whether industrial accidents are rampant due to their negligence over their responsibilities or for the indifference of the factory management resulting in enormous deaths and irreparable loss for the victims' families.
However, this time the initiative of the government to ensure safety in factories and industries across the country is worth noticing. They are going to take initiative of forming a separate agency and the personnel of fire brigade, building structure and environmental compliance will be included in the committee. It is hoped that with joint venture industrial accidents and irregularities in regard to ensure rights of the workers could be controlled.
To this end, we never want to see any compromise in regard to protect the workers as they are the resources of our country. With their devotion and hard work the country is cherishing to reach its target of development. So, there is no alternative to strengthen factory monitoring that ultimately saves lives and contributes to national development.
Alaul Alam teaches at Prime University. He is also research scholar at the IBS.