Make workplace safer
The world must learn lessons from the deadly Rana Plaza collapse in Savar and ensure the safety of garment workers in Bangladesh and around the globe, said a visiting US Congressman yesterday.
"We can just no longer accept the status quo that continues to put workers' lives in jeopardy. This is the message I will take back to the US Congress and the Obama administration," George Miller told reporters while visiting Savar's Enam Medical College and Hospital, where many injured victims have been taking treatment since their rescue from the wreckage of the nine-storey building.
Rana Plaza, which housed five garment factories, caved in on April 24, drawing global attention once again to workers' safety issues at industrial units in Bangladesh five months after the Tazreen fire killed 112 people.
Miller said he was now in Bangladesh to conduct an investigation to make sure that the latest tragedy that killed at least 1,130 people and injured over 2,500 did not repeat itself.
He called for changes in the laws and practices to make factories safer for workers.
"We know these workers are paid little money and work for long hours to produce clothing," Miller said, but they must be entitled to safe workplaces.
These workers should also be entitled to a say in working conditions so that they are not forced to go back to factories despite risky situations, as happened in the case of Rana Plaza, he said, hinting at his position regarding trade unions.
Garment workers had been told or forced to join work at Rana Plaza the day after cracks emerged in the walls and columns of the building, which led to a brief evacuation.
"It is very important that workers have some power to keep themselves safe," Miller noted, adding changes were inevitable for Bangladesh's garment sector.
He criticised suggestions that the sector could not afford the much-needed investment to improve safety and labour conditions.
"This is not true. You [garment makers] can have safer workplaces and pay decent wages and still have businesses in the world, selling garments."
Addressing safety issues is not likely to cost jobs in Bangladesh, Miller said. For many years, the garment makers have said they cannot spend money to make the workplaces safer and in consequence many people have had to pay with their lives.
Miller, with the help of a translator, talked to some injured workers at the hospital and appeared to be moved by their plight.
"Some of the workers have lost limbs and some have head injuries and broken bones. It is very hard to see these so many young people in such conditions."
The US Congressman was worried that these victims might not be able to work again and become dependent on their families.
The tragedy should not have taken place, Miller said, adding the way the industry had been shaped up had created the scope for such fatal incidents.
François Zimeray, French ambassador at-large for human rights, also visited the hospital. Later he told reporters that this disaster could have been avoided.