Rana Plaza anniversary: Two years is too long to wait for union rights and compensation
Today marks the second anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh, the worst industrial disaster in the country’s history that killed almost 1200 workers, most of them women under the age of 19.
The terrible fact is that these deaths were entirely preventable.
Workers at the factory had noticed cracks on the walls of the illegally built factory the day before the collapse, but there was no union through which they could raise concerns. The management at Rana Plaza docked workers three days pay for each day they were absent from work. This is why workers had to go into work at the factory on 24 April 2013, the majority of whom would never come out again.
As I witnessed when I visited Bangladesh last year, trade unions have been growing stronger after Rana Plaza. This is due in part to reforms in the law and the central position that the Bangladesh Accord gives unions in making factories safer – no surprise as it was created by two global unions UNI-Global and IndustriALL.
A number of union centres have also developed solidarity initiatives to grow trade unions in Bangladesh. TUC Aid, our development arm, is currently supporting a women’s leadership development programme at the National Garment Workers Federation to support some of the women workers – who make up 80% of the garment industry – to develop the confidence to bargain to bargain to improve working conditions.
However, trade unions still face serious repression. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) reports that harassment, beatings and unfair dismissals of trade unionists are common. NGWF leader Munirizzaman Shikder Monir was kidnapped and tortured on 21 May 2014 in broad daylight by agents of garment factory owners.
A report by Human Rights Watch this week also vividly detailed the violence factory managers unleash against workers seeking to organise and represent workers that has left many afraid for their lives.
The Labour Law in Bangladesh also places serious restrictions on freedom of association. Unions are only allowed to register on a factory by factory basis – as many factories are small it means unions remain small, numerous and weak. There are approximately 7, 289 basic unions in Bangladesh, yet this covers just 1.6% of the workforce according to the ILO. Solidarity Centre report there has also been a worrying increase in rejections of trade unions by the Department of Labour – up 30% in 2014 compared to 2013.
The TUC has supported the call of the ITUC, IndustriALL and UNI-Global for the Bangladesh government to reform the Labour law to allow workers to organise and bargain with management for safer conditions and pay they can live on.
EU governments also need to apply pressure on the Bangladesh government as Bangladesh receives trade privileges on the condition that they reform the :abour law to allow freedom of association and workers’ fundamental rights.
Responsibility for upholding labour rights also lies with companies here in the UK to make sure workers in their global supply chain are treated decently. This includes also having access to compensation for harm suffered at work.
Shockingly companies have been so reluctant to provide compensation to the victims of Rana Plaza and the their families that two years on $6 million is still outstanding from the Rana Plaza fund.
Today TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Two years after 1129 workers died in the Rana Plaza factory collapse, not enough has been done to make sure that such terrible events never happen again.
“Workers must be able to join a union without fear of attack, and companies must accept their moral duty to provide compensation to all workers harmed in their global supply chains.”