Workers forced to join work

Relatives allege; BGMEA president claims factories reopened on 'assurance from engineers'

A man in tears with a photo of a missing relative, who worked in Rana Plaza at Savar Bazar bus stand, asks people if they have seen her yesterday. Photo: Rashed Shumon A man in tears with a photo of a missing relative, who worked in Rana Plaza at Savar Bazar bus stand, asks people if they have seen her yesterday. Photo: Rashed Shumon

Workers of at least two garment factories at Rana Plaza that collapsed yesterday were forced to join their workplaces following a false assurance on the building's safety from a local engineer, relatives of the victims alleged.
Teary-eyed relatives, eagerly waiting for their loved ones near the destruction site, said top officials of the garment factories held meetings in the morning and forced the workers to join work.
Five factories housed in the building employed a total of 3,122 workers, according to Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
In a media briefing, BGMEA President Atiqul Islam said after cracks were detected on the building, the association asked the owners of the five factories to discontinue operations until further examination by qualified engineers.
Factory owners opened their factories relying on assurance by the building owner, who said that engineers had checked and certified that the building was okay, Atiqul said.
But the BGMEA president did not agree to take action against its members who allegedly forced workers to enter the factories. “Two factory owners are injured and they could not be contacted over phone. It (action) depends on investigation; we don't know who is to blame.”
On the number of workers actually trapped inside the building, the BGMEA president did not say anything. Furthermore, the president refrained from saying whether he actually was able to communicate with the factory owners after the incident. “We will talk on this issue tomorrow [today].”
The Daily Star made several attempts to reach the garment owners for comment, but none of them answered the phone.
Shahadat Hossain, brother of a garments worker in one of the factories in the building and a shop-owner near Rana Plaza, said, “The factory management threatened the workers that their month's salary would not be paid if they did not show up at work.”
At 2pm on Tuesday, the workers were asked to leave the factories as there were some cracks on the pillars of the sprawling building in Savar, he added.
However, two hours later, some workers were called back when a local engineer -- who could not be identified -- “falsely” certified that the building would sustain another 100 years, said Hossain.
The workers were at their job the rest of the day, Hossain added. “Management at the five factories assured them that the small cracks did not pose a real threat as an engineer gave a safety report.”
The Daily Star spoke to five relatives of garments workers, mostly from Phantom Apparels and Phantom Tac, at the site of the ruins.
Babu Bepari, a fruit-seller near Rana Plaza, said, “I saw the building collapse with a big bang at about 8:30 in the morning.” His brother worked for Phantom Garments in the building.
Like thousands others, both Hossain and Bepari were anxiously waiting at the scene to know the fate of their siblings.
During the tragic incident, all the five factories -- Ether Tex, New Wave Bottoms, New Wave Style, Phantom Apparels and Phantom Tac -- were open. All are members of BGMEA.
Unlike the previous cases of accidents in apparel industries, the BGMEA is yet to announce any compensation for the victims or their families. It has not either opened any cell to give assistance to the affected workers.


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