Compensation still eludes Rana Plaza victims

Donations, offered mainly by global retailers, have overshadowed the issue of ensuring compensation to the surviving Rana Plaza workers and the families of their deceased colleagues.

The issue was raised yesterday by the Bangladesh Garment Sramik Sanghati (BGSS), which said that the money handed over to the workers and families of the dead workers by the Rana Plaza Donor Trust Fund came from both public and private sectors as donations and not as compensation that workers are legally entitled to.

The organisation, citing the Rana Plaza Arrangement, said nowhere in the English version of the 'Rana Plaza Agreement Terms and Conditions of Donor Trust Fund' does it contain the word compensation.

Instead, there is a mention of the words 'financial support'. There is also no mention of compensation in payment letters, sent by Rana Plaza Claim Administration to the victims. The letters of payment receipts contain the words grant, it said.

“So, it is clear that the Rana Plaza victims are not getting any compensation,” said Taslima Akhter, coordinator of the BGSS while presenting a paper at a discussion at Dhaka Reporters Unity.

The programme was arranged to mark the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, which claimed at least 1,138 lives and injured hundreds, making it the worst industrial disaster in the nation's history.

Following the disaster, the $40 million-Rana Plaza Trust Fund was formed to provide financial support and medical care, as per the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention.

However, not all the global retailers have footed the amount they had committed to the fund.

Akhter said 70 percent of the amount put in to the fund so far has been handed over by the authorities to the survivors and families of dead workers.

But, the victims are getting varying amounts of financial support in absence of a minimum floor. As a result, a division has emerged among the families of the victims, she said.

The BGSS also wanted to know what happened to the donations put in by different persons and organisations into the prime minister's fund after the disaster.

Over Tk 100 crore has been collected by the PM's fund but only Tk 22 crore has been disbursed so far, said BGSS, referring to the labour ministry's disclosure a year ago.

“We are yet to see any explanation regarding the rest of the amount in the fund,” said Anu Muhammad, professor of economics at Jahangirnagar University.

Muhammad, also a member secretary of National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, demanded formulation of a compensation policy for workers, not only of the garment industry but all sectors, including construction.

Citing the highest amount of compensation mentioned in the labour law, which is Tk 125,000, he said the government should be ashamed how such a small amount can be passed off as just compensation.

He also demanded establishing public hospitals, especially for industrial workers.

A minimum standard should be established for compensation, a minor revision is required in the law in this regard, said Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmed, assistant executive director of the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies.

He said two years have gone by since the Rana Plaza collapse, but the victims' workers and their families have so far received 70 percent of the amount they were pledged, be it compensation or financial support.

“It is our failure,” he said, adding that owners are responsible for compensating workers and it is the responsibility of the government to see it through.

Barrister Sara Hossain expressed dissatisfaction over the delay in ensuring justice for the victims of Rana Plaza. She said all the cases, beginning from Spectrum Garments to Rana Plaza, are still pending.