Ananta workers demonstrate outside the DIFE building, demanding action to improve safety at their factory.
On the eve of the fourth anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than a 1,000 garment workers, swift action by an IndustriALL trade union affiliate in the country has prevented a potential tragedy from taking place.
Almost 3,000 garment workers, most of whom were women, were working at the 15-storey Ananta Plaza building in Dhaka, home to the Ananta Fashion and Ananta Apparels Ltd garment factories, when a section of the ground floor collapsed on 5 April 2017 at around 5pm.
Security guardrooms on the ground floor of Ananta Plaza partially caved in and tilted due to major excavation work taking place next to the building.
To the garment workers, the incident came as a sharp reminder of the Rana Plaza tragedy of 24 April 2013, when an eight-storey building collapsed killing 1,134 and injuring over 2000 workers.
The Ananta Fashion & Apparels Workers Union (AFAWU), which is affiliated to IndustriALL through the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) called on the workers to immediately evacuate the building and asked management to close the factory until the building was made structurally safe. The management agreed to close the factory for two days, after which time it wanted to resume production.
However, NGWF responded by holding a demonstration with factory workers the following day outside the headquarters of the Directorate of Inspector General of Factories & Establishment (DIFE). NGWF called on the officials to force management to close down the factories until structural remediation had been completed.
The government office complied with workers’ demands and issued a notice directing factory closure and structural remediation. Workers also marched to the head office of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturer & Exporters (BGMEA), to press home their demands, including salary compensation and continuity of service while the factories were out of action.
At the same time, NGWF contacted the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh to investigate the Ananta building. Following an inspection, the Accord issued a closure notice and called for urgent structural remediation, including for the excavated area next to the Ananta Plaza building to be immediately and completely back-filled with sand and adequately compacted.
On 10 April the factory called workers to resume work. It announced that the emergency remediation was complete and the engineers of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and officials of DIFE had visited the site.
However, following workers’ apprehension, NGWF and the management asked the Accord to investigate the safety improvements. The Accord visited the factory on 11 April and announced it safe for human occupancy.
Workers returned to work the next day after a meeting between the representatives of NGWF, the factory union, management, the BGMEA, and Accord officials, including structural engineers.
Management agreed to pay salary compensation to the workers for the days the factories were closed and not to victimize workers for being part of the movement to shut down the. Management also committed to complete remediation of the building complex according to the recommendation of the Accord as soon as possible.
Amirul Haque Amin, President of NGWF and Chair of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council said:
Workers' united actions to win safe working conditions are a major step forward in the garment industry in Bangladesh. Significantly, factory management, the BGMEA, and the Ministry of Labour recognized building safety as an important issue and quickly responded to workers’ demands. We are thankful to all stakeholders, particularly the Accord, who acted quickly to ensure workers' safety.