11 February, 2022On 31 January, a worker was killed in an accident at Kabir Steel shipbreaking yard in Sitakunda municipality, Chittagong, Bangladesh, while working at night – despite a court order prohibiting the practice.
The deceased, Mohammad Ariful Islam Sujan — a young cutter — was cutting down a joist girder at night when the accident happened. Shipbreaking yards operate at night in highly unsafe conditions despite a court order in 2011 prohibiting shipbreaking work at night. Another worker was injured in an incident at the same shipyard last week.
IndustriALL Global Union affiliates — Bangladesh Metal Workers Federation (BMF) and Bangladesh Metal, Chemical, Garment and Tailor Workers Federation (BMCGTWF ) — have continuously raised these issues. Seven accidents were reported last year at other yards, Madanbibir Hat and Gamarital, run by Kabir Steel.
Management is trying to pass off the death as an incident where, according to Abdullah Al Sakib Mubarrat, deputy inspector general of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, Chattogram, “Ariful suddenly felt sick, vomited and fell down.” IndustriALL affiliates in Bangladesh are resisting what they see as a cover up, and demand that the dead workers’ family be paid full compensation.
A human chain was organised by trade unions on 2 February, which the local police tried to disrupt. After the police intervention, union leaders turned the human chain into a massive rally. Organizers of BMF and BMCGTWF met the deceased worker's family and helped them prepare documents to claim compensation.
The unions held talks with the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments over the issue of compensation, and intend to maintain this communication. The company has reportedly deposited 0.2 million BDT (US $2,327) with the labour court, according to the practice established by 2018 amendments to the Bangladesh Labour Act, but an outstanding amount of 0.5 million BDT (US $5,816) still needs to be provided to the victim’s family.
Bangladesh affiliates of IndustriALL have continuously raised the issue of unsafe working conditions in shipbreaking yards, and will fight until the deceased’s family receives full compensation. IndustriALL is calling on the Bangladeshi government to ratify the Hong Kong Convention on the Safe Recycling of ships.
Last year, a total of 50 shipbreaking workers were injured and 12 were killed in 43 different accidents across the country. So far this year, two workers have been killed and two injured.
BMF president AM Nazim Uddin and BMCGTWF (Chattogram Committee) general secretary Md. Nurul Absar issued a statement saying:
"BMF and BMCGTWF have always been concerned regarding the frequency of accidents in the shipbreaking sector of Bangladesh and constantly demanding measures by the owners and the government that may help prevent the accidents. It therefore comes as a complete surprise to the unions that the Deputy Inspector General of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, Chattogram and the Kabir Steel Limited owner have painted a completely different picture of the accident at Kabir Steel Limited which raises serious questions regarding their intent and integrity. We demand that the government takes appropriate action against such unlawful activities of the owner and the government officials. We also demand that the families of the affected workers be given a full share of the compensation due."
Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL regional secretary said:
“It is the responsibility of the owners to ensure that workers who are working for them don’t die at work, rather than get away with paying paltry compensation for the death of a worker.”
Photo: A file image from a Chittagong yard. CC Stéphane M. Grueso