Rana Plaza survivors are once again impeded by COVID-19

Staff reporter, Outlookbangla.com

Despite surviving, many workers injured in the Rana Plaza collapse are still living a miserable life. The physical health condition of 14 percent survivor is getting worse. Among them, 58.5 percent are more or less stable, and 27.5 percent are completely stable. Most of the 14 percent survivors reported that they are still bearing with headache, pain in hand and leg and back pain, according to a survey conducted by ActionAid Bangladesh.

In terms of psychosocial health, 12.5 percent are still in trauma in comparison to 10.5 percent survivors last year. Currently 62 percent reported that they are more or less stable, and 25.5 percent have recovered fully compared to 21 percent last year. A total of 4.5 percent more survivors have improved their mental health than last year.

These findings were disclosed in a virtual dialogue titled ‘COVID-19: Challenges for the Rana Plaza Tragedy Survivors’ on 22 April 2021 (Thursday)organised by ActionAid Bangladesh in memory of the 8th year of Rana Plaza tragedy. The survey was conducted among 200 survivors of Rana Plaza collapse.

After the devastating collapse of Rana Plaza, many could not return to work due to physical and mental condition. Many of the survivors returned to work but could not turn their fate. Many have changed their profession as a way of living. The outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic has again impacted on their lives.

According to the survey, 43 percent survivors are engaged in various types of wage and self-employment. However, due to the deteriorating physical condition, they have to make a living by changing their work from time to time. The 12 percent survivors have returned to garments with another 12 percent involved in tailoring.

In most households, there in only a single earner whose income is reduced due to the outbreak of COVID-19. A total of 37.5 percent said their household income is between 5,001 – 10,300 BDT while 29.5 percent have a household income between 10,300 – 15,300 BDT. Majority of survivors have an average expenditure of over 10,000 BDT with major costs incurred for food, followed by house-rent, children’s education and treatment.

Around 67 percent participants said that the factories are maintaining the guided procedures when they enter into and stay during the working hour while 33 percent participants expressed that, the factories are not offering guided measurements in rolling out safe health and hygiene at the workplace.

While speaking as a chief guest, Shirin Akhter, Member of Parliament stated thatWe have labor laws in our country. If that law is implemented properly, it is possible to gain some benefits to the workers. As well as compensation laws needs to be enacted. Creating an emergency fund makes it easier to get temporary relief from dangers like the Rana Plaza tragedy. Trade unions, employers and the government can work together to create a good working environment, transparency, and accountability in the factories. If we can confirm all these things, we can say that we have been able to bring positive change by learning from the horrors of the Rana Plaza incident.

She called on the trade unions to negotiate with the RMG owners to see if the incentive announced by the government during COVID-19 is properly allotted to the workers.She also requested the employers to arrange rations for the workers.

Tuomo Poutiainen, Country Director, ILO Country Office for Bangladesh said, “There is a requirement to improve security and governance on labor issues, and this needs institutional change. We have to create a culture of health safety for workers in factories and the government needs to enact legislation to ensure this.

He called for a new way of thinking about social security during COVID_19. And for that Tuomo Poutiainen spoke of creating new jobs by increasing investment in collaboration with the government, industry and workers.

Dr. Khondokar Golam Moazzem, Research Director, Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) said in his speech that, Since the Rana Plaza collapse, there has been no positive change in the victims’ lives. Despite some financial assistance, the process of reintegration of injured workers in the formal sector has not been introduced, they have to be brought under reintegration process.

He called for the distribution of free health cards from the Rana Plaza Trust Fund at the upazila level to ensure the medical treatment of the injured workers who have returned to their ancestors’ place. He also proposed for the provision of health insurance for the surviving injured workers.

It is disappointing that Bangladesh has yet to come up with an effective employment scheme although many years of Rana Plaza collapse have past, said Werner Lange, Cluster Coordinator, Textile and Leather, GIZ. He also emphasized onintroducing Employment Injury Insurance (EII) Schemefor workers.

Dr. Hameeda Hossain, Convener, Sramik Nirapotta Forum (SNF) said in her speech that they have been visiting the victim’s graveyard on the day of the Rana Plaza collapse for eight years. There was supposed to be a big monument in the memory of the deceased workers but in reality, it did not happen. Even after sending letter to the city corporation every year, the task of identifying the graves of the slain workers has not been implemented even today. Moreover, legal compensation was not given in so many years which is still pending in the High Court. She called for ensuring the safety of workers by implementing safety committees and insurance schemes.

Rajekuzzaman Ratan, General Secretary, Somajtantrik Sramik Front said, on an average, about 1,000 workers die in various accidents in our country every year.The National Social Security Project needs to be implemented to ensure security. People should not lose their lives.

While moderating the virtual dialogue, Farah Kabir, Country Director, ActionAid Bangladesh said, “Even in eight years, the condition of significant surviving workers is not satisfactory. But the workers are called the oxygen of the economy and development of the country. We have to come out of the colonial mentality and fulfill the just demands of the workers. Accidents could happen again at any time like Rana Plaza collapse. That is why everyone should be made aware about insurance schemes, self-development skills or special fund formation and emergency activities.

Tazul Islam, Senior Sustainability Coordinator, s.Oliver; Salahuddin Bablu, Business Editor, SATV also spoke among others in the virtual dialogue.