Rana Plaza survivors left in the lurch

ActionAid survey paints gloomy picture

Some 55 percent of the Rana Plaza survivors are still unemployed, two years after the nation's worst industrial disaster, due to physical inability, trauma or lack of suitable jobs, a recent survey by ActionAid Bangladesh found.

On the flipside, about 44 percent of the survivors managed to get gainfully employed in various sectors, according to the survey, which was unveiled yesterday at a programme organised at the capital's Brac Centre Inn.

ActionAid, an international non-governmental organisation, had the biggest sample size among all the surveys conducted on the disaster that claimed 1,135 lives and injured 2,500.

It covered 2,200 victims, of which 1,414 were survivors and 786 family members of the dead.

Of the survivors that were surveyed, 915 were women and 499 men.

Of the respondents, 69 percent said they are unable to return to regular work because of physical weakness, 7 percent for trauma and 15 percent for lack of suitable jobs. 

Only 35 percent of the survivors have returned to the garment sector.

The survey showed 76 percent of the survivors earned less than Tk 5,300 a month in wages or from petty business. 

Of the survivors, 70.6 percent responded that they were somewhat healed, while an alarming 22.6 percent said their condition was getting worse.

Many of the injured workers need long-term treatment, which they are not receiving at the moment, said Aamanur Rahman, a deputy director of ActionAid Bangladesh, while making a presentation.

While they received adequate health services in the first six months of the building's collapse, that support started petering out after that period.

“Now, the injured workers have run out of money. As a result, they are not being able to take any treatment.”

Over 61 percent of the injured workers need to visit doctors, particularly for diagnosis, prescription for medication and physiotherapy, according to the survey.

On average, each person spends about Tk 1,600 a month for treatment and medicine, with the cost borne by them.

About 60 percent of the survivors surveyed are still suffering from depression and trauma, while 34.2 percent said they have somewhat recovered from the psychological impact.

The report said 30 percent of the survivors have more than five dependents and 16.69 percent have three to four mouths to feed.

At present, less than one-third of the survivors are able to support their families, though in a limited capacity.

Of the respondents, 54.4 percent  are facing a lot of difficulties meeting their daily needs, while 2 percent said they are unable to make ends meet at all.

Subsequently, the survivors and family members of the dead called for financial aid to start their own businesses or invest in their existing family businesses or as a support during job search in sectors other than garment.

More than half of the respondents asked for compensation from the brands and other stakeholders.

Many believe putting the persons responsible for the collapse behind bars would provide justice for the victims of the disaster.

In recommendations, ActionAid said realisation and delivery of full compensation are required to address the mid-term and long-term needs. If compensation is not realised, the progression of vulnerability will be accelerated, it said.

Further health and livelihood support to the survivors is required so they can resume normal lives and careers, said the report.

Jahangir Alam, one of the survivors of the industrial disaster, was present at the programme.

He managed to find a job in another garment factory after the fateful event on April 24, 2013 but could not hold on it. “One day, when the power went off I started screaming out of fear. I thought the Rana Plaza event was playing out again. I lost the job.”

Alam, whose body shakes when he speaks, said the situation is such that no garment factory wants to take on the Rana Plaza survivors.

In light of this, the compensation package should take account of the lifetime income that the survivors have to forgo, he added.

Nilufar Yasmin, another survivor, said they want adequate compensation so they can lead decent lives and bear the educational expenses of their children.

Farah Kabir, country director of ActionAid Bangladesh, said all of these survivors had come to work. “Now they are not being able to work because of psychological and physical difficulties. So, we have to think whether we are doing enough for them.”

She said the injured victims are not taking the required medicines as they do not have the wherewithal. “As a result, they are not being able to reach a stage where they can start to work again.”

Israfil Alam, a member of the parliamentary standing committee on labour ministry, said a lot of promises were made after the tragic event but many of them were not kept.

The debate over compensation should come to an end by fixing the mode of payment, he said.

The ruling party lawmaker is sceptical that the victims would get their due justice: the persons whose negligence led to the collapse are very powerful.

Shahidullah Azim, vice-president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said the platform has taken responsibility of 45 children of the deceased and surviving workers. “We want to take in more children but their guardians are reluctant.”

Tuomo Poutiainen, a programme manager of the International Labour Organisation, said a lot has been done in the last two years but the job is not finished yet.

“Everybody has a shared responsibility to continue to support the victims,” he said, adding that the UN body is also working to ensure that disasters such as Rana Plaza do not recur.

He added that the responsibility to ensure workplace safety lies with the government, factory owners and other stakeholders. “There has to be improvement to governance, transparency and access to justice.”

Syed Ahmed, inspector general of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, said while there are problems with many of the buildings, the number of structures facing risks of collapse is only two percent.

Mojtaba Kazazi, executive commissioner of Rana Plaza Coordination Committee (RPCC), said 2,871 claims have been received from the injured workers, dependents of the deceased and missing workers.

Of them, 2,839 claims were reviewed and authorised for payments. The remaining 32 claims along with the 20-30 additional deceased claims that are yet to be filled will be included in the final instalment, he said.

About Tk 76 crore have so far been paid to the injured workers and dependents of the deceased and missing workers, according to the RPCC executive commissioner. 


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