One year on eighteen year old Reba Khanom from Duttadanga, Gopalganj reflects on her dreadful memories of entrapment at her workplace which was located in the sixth floor of the eighth storied Rana Plaza multicomplex. She was steering her sewing machine like any other day when all of a sudden the hell broke loose with the building collapsing. The sound of co-workers screaming for help and images of friends lying in a pool of blood, dead bodies under rubbles still spark in her mind and haunt her in her sleep. Reba is thankful to God that she is one of the lucky ones who survived the disaster even though she suffered injuries in her spinal cord and both her legs. The brave rescuers bore holes in the roof and pulled her out of the hell. After rescue Reba received free foot surgery and initial treatment for other ailments. In total Reba received a compensation of tk. 40,000, out of which tk. 10,000 was given by the Government and the rest was donated by an unknown sponsor. Reba argues that the amount was too little and a major portion of the money was spent in paying for medical bills and repeat visits to the hospitals. Reba thinks it will be a while before she is able to go back to work as she still has to deal with a lot of aches and pains and not to mention the mental trauma. She is disappointed that her employer cared little when he was informed about the crack in the building the day before the disaster. Logically, Reba thinks, ‘why would he care now? He has paid no compensation.”
Against this backdrop BLAST a CLS grantee along with Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) filed a writ petition at the High Court. The petitioners argued that government authorities had conspicuously failed to ensure compliance with applicable building safety laws and with workplace safety laws, resulting in the collapse of the Rana Plaza building. Furthermore, the petitioners noted that the government failed to act in a timely manner that could have saved the lives of hundreds of extremely impoverished workers even after having found the cracks on the building. They sought an independent and impartial investigation, prosecution for those responsible and redress for those affected.
In response to the PIL, the High Court directed the South East bank not to disburse money to certain respondents from the accounts of two of the Rana Plaza based garments factories which had been frozen in order to allow for payment of compensation to workers. The immediate impact of this legal intervention paved the way towards ensuring that funds from the accounts that had been frozen could be exhausted for providing compensation to the Rana Plaza victims.
In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza collapse, several initiatives were taken by BLAST and its coalition partners to highlight concerns around the issue of workers’ rights and compensation for workplace deaths and injuries. Follwing a roundtable discussion in May 2013, written submissions were made to the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Labour on 18 May 2013 and 2 June 2013 respectively towards amendment of the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006. Recommendations among others included, changing the manner in which compensation for workplace deaths and injuries is calculated.