Bangladesh pays industrial victims way less than ILO standard

The amount of compensation legally payable to victims of industrial incidents in Bangladesh is far below than the provisions of the ILO Convention 121, said Tuomo Poutiainen, country director of the International Labour Organisation.

The convention mainly deals with the victims' future earning losses, he said.

The 2018 amendment to the Bangladesh labour act doubled the compensation amount in case of death and permanent disability.

But that took the figures to just Tk 2 lakh and Tk 2.5 lakh respectively.

In the existing labour law of Bangladesh, there is no provision for rehabilitation services for workers suffering for long durations as a result of occupational diseases and workplace accidents, said the ILO chief for Bangladesh.

"The ILO is currently collaborating with the government, employers' and the workers' organisations to establish a national employment injury (EII) system…," he told The Daily Star said in a brief online interview.

The system would cover prevention, compensation and rehabilitation needs for all industrial accidents and occupational diseases in Bangladesh, Poutiainen said during the meet marking the eighth anniversary of Tazreen Fashions fire.

The Employment Injury Benefits Convention 1964, which is known as ILO Convention 121, determines workers' financial benefits on the basis of losses to future earnings, which is the best practice internationally.

For instance, if any worker dies in an industrial incident at the age of 25, the opportunity is lost for that person to work for another 34 years, considering the fact that the standard period for holding government jobs in Bangladesh is 59 years.

So, the compensation will be determined by counting the monthly earnings of the next 34 years.

This includes standard annual increment, allowances, medical expenses, educational expenses of two children, house rents, medical allowances and some other factors under the ILO Convention 121.

In case of permanent disability or permanent injuries, the compensation under the ILO Convention 121 is much more, considering the gravity of the fact that a person has to continue living with the loss of limbs.

But here too, the compensation is determined on the basis of future loss of earnings.

This enables the victims' relatives or family members of the injured person or persons to receive a handsome amount of money.

In both cases of the Tazreen Fashions fire and the Rana Plaza building collapse, the ILO along with IndustriALL, local labour leaders, and retailers and brands formed two bodies under the guidance of ILO Convention 121.

Although the ILO itself did not pay the victims, the compensations were determined following the ILO Convention 121.

However, since Bangladesh is yet to ratify the convention, a few components of it were excluded when the compensations were determined. Despite this, the victims of both tragedies received handsome amounts of money.

"As per our knowledge, Tazreen Claims Administration Trust (TCA) has paid compensation to 582 beneficiaries of Tazreen Fashions fire until now," Poutiainen said.

In addition, the Trust for Injured Workers Medical Care (TIWMC) has organised medical care for 114 workers injured during the Tazreen factory fire.

The amendments to the labour law following the two incidents have made strides in the right direction by reducing membership requirements for the formation of trade unions, an important platform for workers to organise and voice their concerns.

The 2018 amendment incorporates two standard operating procedures (SoPs) on trade union registration and anti-union discrimination.

The adoption of these SOPs has seen an almost 15 per cent increase in the rate of trade union registration. 

"The ILO appreciates Bangladesh government's openness to further reduce the trade union registration threshold…"

"…and we stand ready to facilitate a meaningful dialogue between the government, employers' and workers' organisations for further review and amendment of the BLA," Poutiainen said.

"This is to ensure the rights of all workers are met in line with the international labour standards."

Regarding workplace safety, he said there has been a noticeable improvement in factory safety in Bangladesh since 2013, principally as a result of three initiatives focused on improving building safety of readymade garment factories in operation.

Thousands of factories have been inspected under the national initiative of the Bangladesh government and the two private initiatives of the Accord and the Alliance.

Many tens of thousands of employers and workers have been educated and trained in occupational safety and health. International buyers also played an important role by opting to do business with factories that have implemented sufficient safety remediation.

To encourage safety remediation works and as part of an escalation process, the government's national initiative instructed the withdrawal of export licences of 401 factories and ordered the closure of 47 factories, said the ILO country director. 

"Yet much more still needs to be done to mitigate the safety and health risks at workplaces. The skills and lessons learned from remediation of RMG factories can be applied to workplaces in other sectors," he said.

"Improved collaboration between different regulatory bodies and the industry is needed to strengthen the enforcement of national laws and standards on workplace safety," he added.

Building safety of all residential and commercial establishments should be regulated by Rajuk and the Fire Service and Civil Defence during the design and construction stage of buildings.

Once a factory starts operating in a building, the DIFE (the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments) would be responsible for industrial operational layouts and occupational safety and health issues in the factory, Poutiainen said.

"The ILO is working closely with the DIFE to strengthen its governance and monitoring mechanisms."

"It is important that government, employers and workers all work together to establish a culture of safety to prevent accidents at work. Safety is something that we all need to work on every day," he said in a written reply to queries from The Daily Star.

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