Complete compensation without delay

European diplomat calls for fast-track fund disbursement
Diplomats, government high-ups, business leaders and rights activists observe moments of silence to show respects to the victims of Rana Plaza tragedy, on the second anniversary of the country's worst industrial accident, during a seminar organised by the ILO, at Sonargaon Hotel in Dhaka yesterday. Photo: Star

A European diplomat yesterday called for completion of compensation disbursement to Rana Plaza victims without further delays.

“First and foremost, we need to close the chapter on the compensation for the Rana Plaza victims with great urgency and transparency,” said Martine van Hoogstraten, charge d'affaires of the Netherlands Embassy in Dhaka.

While close to 3,500 Rana Plaza victims and their dependants have received at least 70 percent of the compensation through the trust fund, much work is still needed before there can be full closure, she said.

Furthermore, more than 80 missing victims still need to be identified, efforts need to be coordinated to ensure that the discrepancies in the awards are minimised, long-term health care for the injured needs to be resolved, and, an overall compensation framework needs to be institutionalised.

“While we recognise the progress made over the past years, significant efforts are still needed, and, as development partners, it is our responsibility to ensure that we take them forward and keep the momentum going.”

Hoogstraten spoke at a programme, “Rana Plaza two years on: Towards a safer RMG sector for Bangladesh,” at the capital's Sonargaon Hotel in Dhaka yesterday.

The event was organised by the International Labour Organisation to commemorate the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed 1,138 workers and injured thousands.

Diplomats from different countries, government higher-ups, leaders from the rights groups, researchers and garment businessmen participated in the event.

Bangladesh has made a significant progress in workplace safety, but the country needs continuation of the progress, said Pierre Mayaudon, head of the delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh.

The country's total garment exports to the 28 nations under the EU are equivalent to 10 percent of the GDP in a year, he said.

Asked if the progress on workplace safety is enough, he said: “The short answer would be a 'no'.”

The long answer is that Bangladesh needs to implement the rules of amended labour law and strong monitoring of the occupational safety measures, stop unfair treatment of trade union leaders and extend union rights to workers from factories housed in the export processing zones.

Although remediation is underway in some factories, provision of low-cost financing remains critical for the purpose, said Pierre Benoit Laramee, Canadian high commissioner in Bangladesh.

“Ensuring a safe and thriving sector also requires that working environments are safe. A safe factory means one where workers do not overwork so that they put their health at risk,” he added.

Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat, US Ambassador in Bangladesh, said “amazing progress” has taken place to address workers' safety in the garment sector.

“We know that certain actors have resorted to illegal tactics to prevent unions from forming, such as firing, threatening and even beating suspected union leaders. These are illegal and criminal acts and the government of Bangladesh has been slow -- or unable to respond.”

Atiqul Islam, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufac-turers and Exporters Association, said the collapse of Rana Plaza was a tremendous wake-up call for the country's garment sector. “We have a lot of challenges. But the problems of the last 30 years cannot be overcome in two years.”

No country in the world has shown such a change in a single industry, said Tomoko Nishimoto, ILO's assistant director-general and regional director for Asia and the Pacific, adding that other countries can follow Bangladesh's lead.

Mikail Shipar, labour secretary, said the government has already recruited 218 additional factory inspectors and the total number is 285 now.  The government allowed more than 300 new trade unions over last one and half years, he added.

Tapan Chowdhury, president of Bangladesh Employers' Federation; Hedayetullah Al Mamoon, commerce secretary; Roy Ramesh Chandra, secretary general of IndustriALL Bangladesh; and Robert Winnington Gibson, British high commissioner in Bangladesh, also spoke. 


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