Four years after the tortured, lifeless body of Bangladesh garment worker – organiser Aminul Islam – was discovered in a ditch, his killers have yet to be arrested.
The Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF) and Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidarity (BCWS) demanded on the anniversary last Friday that the authorities find and bring Aminul’s killers to trial. Aminul was a well-respected labour leader among workers at Savar and Ashulia area garment factories in suburban Dhaka, the capital.
At the time of his death, he was a BCWS organiser and BGIWF regional president and was working to resolve a dispute between workers and managers at a nearby factory. The police filed a case accusing a National Security Intelligence agent with the crime, but he escaped.
The BGIWF and BCWS, both Solidarity Centre allies, complain that the case was filed without a proper investigation and rules for collection of primary evidence were not followed. At a Dhaka press conference yesterday, Babul Akter, BGIWF president, demanded that the Ministry of Home Affairs reopen the case and conduct a legitimate investigation, including DNA testing of Aminul’s clothes, to identify, arrest and prosecute the murderers.
Since Aminul’s murder, more than 1,100 Bangladeshi garment workers have been killed on the job and at least 3,600 have been injured, including workers in a factory fire at Tazreen Fashions in November 2012 and in the collapse of Rana Plaza in April 2013.
Aminul sought to improve the hazardous conditions many garment workers still face, as well as to redress exploitation such as wage theft. He believed that the lack of fire safety measures and other protections for workers could most effectively be addressed by workers who freely form unions and collectively bargain to improve workplace conditions.
Meanwhile, it has been found that fifty-seven per cent of child workers in Bangladesh are physically tortured at work, according to a study. The study conducted by Nielsen Company (Bangladesh) Ltd on behalf of the Family Planning Association of Bangladesh (FPAB) shows 66 per cent child domestic workers suffer mental torture, while seven per cent of them are raped.
Prof ASM Amanullah of Dhaka University presented the study titled ‘Child Labour Situation in Informal Sector of Bangladesh’ in a programme organised by Nielsen in the capital’s CIRDAP Auditorium yesterday. As many as 600 child labourers working in informal sectors of Dhaka, Chittagong and Khulna were surveyed in September 2015, Prof Amanullah said. He added that the objectives of the study were to identify the underlying causes of child labour and find possible measures and make recommendations to mitigate the problem.
The study found that 35 per cent of child labourers do not have access to proper food and drinking water, while 22 per cent work in hazardous conditions. Nielsen used Focus Group Discussion (FGD), In-depth Interview (IDI), Key Informant Interview (KII) and Case Study to study violence on children.
The study further revealed that 52 per cent of the children aged between 15 and 18 worked 10.25 hours a day, 44 per cent between ages 10 and 14 worked 10 hours a day, and four per cent between five and nine years of age worked 9.23 hours a day.
Citing the Bangladesh Labour Act (BLA), Prof Amanullah said the minimum age to work is 14 and the working hour is set at eight hours a day. About 48 per cent of the surveyed children said they started working at an early age because their parents wanted them to, while almost 43 per cent said they engaged in work to support their families.
The study says around 84 per cent went to school, but only 10 per cent of them continued their education. The reasons behind this were poverty, family needs and fear of education and teachers. Prof Amanullah said poverty, parent’s influence, lack of knowledge about child rights and disability in the family were the main causes of child labour.
As many as 348 children said the payment given to them was not enough, while 420 of them said they could not afford their daily needs with their pay. Prof Amanullah recommended a strong monitoring system and preventing employers from employing children below 12. Expressing concerns, Honorary Secretary General of FPAB Mizanur Rahman Khan Liton said violence on children has been increasing day by day.
State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Meher Afroz Chumki held poor enforcement of laws responsible for child labour and violence on children. She underscored the need for a change in the mentality of people to stop violence against children. Honorary President of FPAB Masudur Rahman, Executive Director of FPAB AFM Matiur Rahman and Managing Director of Nielsen Anam Mahmud, among others, spoke on the occasion.
• Toxic gas inhalation has caused the death of one shipbreaking worker and left another battling for life. On 15 April 2016, Biplob (22) and Jasim (27) were exposed to toxic gases while they were working at the shipyard of the Premium Trade Corporation, owned by Manik at Baro.
According to the Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health & Environment Foundation, the accident took place at around 3.30pm and the yard management sent the injured workers to the Chittagong Medical College Hospital for treatment. However, Biplob died at the hospital, while Jasim is in a serious condition.
As of today, six workers have lost their lives in less than four months of 2016 at Bangladeshi shipbreaking yards. On 28 March, a worker died in an accident at the Kabir Steel Yard and seven people were injured as security guards opened fire on workers and the local community protesting the death of the worker.
On this occasion, Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL, condemned the incident in the strongest terms and in a letter to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh called on the government ‘to ensure that accident victims are provided appropriate compensation and to punish employers who operate shipbreaking yards with gross negligence’.
Yet another death in quick succession confirms that shipbreaking employers continue to operate yards without adequate safety standards. The government’s inaction in ensuring a safe working environment for shipbreaking workers continues to claim lives.
Kan Matsuzaki, director for shipbuilding and shipbreaking, stated: ‘We will strengthen our action to combat the unacceptable working conditions in Bangladesh.
‘The Bangladesh government have to implement what they promised and secure the workers’ lives now!’ At the end of last month, seven people, including a 16-year-old boy, were injured after guards at a shipbreaking company in Bangladesh opened fire on people protesting against the death of a worker.
Mohammad Sumon, was killed instantly when a truck transporting scrap steel from the Kabir Steel yard in Chittagong, ran him over on the morning on 28 March 2016. On hearing about the accident, locals, co-workers and Sumon’s family members gathered at the scene.
According to reports, factory authorities at Kabir Steel took the body inside and refused to hand it over to his relatives. With grief and anger, they started to protest, blocking the Dhaka Chittagong highway in front of the factory for about two hours demanding punishment for the guilty.
Factory guards, reportedly acting under orders from Kabir Steel, then opened fire on the demonstrators, injuring seven people identified as: Nurun Nabi (20), Delwar (24), Usman (25), Munna (20), Musammat Shahnaz (25), Shabuddin (18) and Samir Ahad (16).
IndustriALL Global Union has written to Prime Minister of Bangladesh to ‘condemn in the strongest terms’ the shootings. ‘We demand an investigation into why such brutal force was used against the protestors and the guilty must be punished,’ said IndustriALL’s general secretary, Jyrki Raina.
‘We can no longer afford to continue the business as usual attitude as workers risk their lives every day at Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards. IndustriALL calls upon the government of Bangladesh to ensure that accident victims are provided appropriate compensation and to punish employers who operate shipbreaking yards with gross negligence.’
The letter also urged the government to immediately implement the newly revised Bangladesh Ship Recycling Act 2015, and to accelerate steps to ratify the Hong Kong Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships. The first three months of 2016 have witnessed the deaths of four workers at shipbreaking yards in Bangladesh:
On 12 March 2016, Mohammad Morselin, a 20-year-old shipbreaking worker fell from a ship while working at the SL Ship Breaking Yard in Kumira of Sitakunda Upazila. He died in hospital on 15 March 2016. Another worker, Minhaj (43), from the same yard also died on the same day. While it has been claimed that heatstroke caused his death, workers suspect that he may have died in an accident.
On 3 March 2016, Mohammad Shafiqul Islam Shikder (34) succumbed to injuries incurred while removing an air conditioning unit from a ship, which fell on his thigh. He was working in the OWW ship yard owned by Mahsin Badsha.
On 20 January 2016 shipbreaking worker Akkas Mian (42) died as an iron plate fell on him during the dismantling of a ship at Asad Shipbreaking Yard at Madam Bibir Hat of Sitakunda Upazila.