‘It was an act of God’ – BGMEA boss says about Rana Plaza disaster, tries to save factory owners

People rescue garment workers trapped under rubble at the Rana Plaza building after it collapsed, in Savar

The Rana Plaza victims were cheated out of their rightful dues by the BGMEA that worked out the compensation package by profiling the industrial accident as a natural disaster.
“The building collapse was beyond the owner’s control. It was an act of God,” said Atiqul Islam, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
The garment sector’s apex trade body employed Sections 12, 16 and 20 of Bangladesh Labour Law 2006 to formulate the compensation package under which the victims were paid much less than what they deserve.
Section 12 of the law stipulates that owners can shut down their factories anytime in case of events beyond their control. Such events include fire, malfunction, blackouts, epidemic and violence.
Once it is established that an incident falls under Section 12, the factory owner has the right to lay off workers in line with Section 16.
Section 20 says the workers laid-off under Section 16 are entitled to 30 days’ gratuity for each year’s service.
“We paid the workers following this formula,” said Islam. He noted that the BGMEA had paid a month’s salary and overtime payments to every worker who survived the collapse.
The trade body has paid some 2,785 workers of the complex from the Tk 7 crore it pooled from its 2,500-odd members, who contributed Tk 25,000 each.
The families of the dead workers did not receive anything as they could not prove to be the nominees of the victims during the disbursement of salaries.
The relatives of the 291 missing workers, whose DNA profiling is yet to be completed, also didn’t get anything.
AKM Nasim, senior legal counsellor at the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, a workers’ rights group, said the Rana Plaza victims are entitled to additional three months’ salaries under the termination benefit scheme.
“It is unfortunate that the BGMEA opted for another scheme that is inapplicable for the circumstances.”
He said the Rana Plaza collapse was not an “act of God” by any stretch of imagination. “There was no flood, cyclone, earthquake or heavy downpour.”
“How can it be an act of God when it was gross negligence on the part of the employers and the building owner that brought about the catastrophe?”
As an instance of their negligence, the lawyer mentioned that workers were forced to enter the building despite detection of big cracks in its pillars the previous day.
“The BGMEA is now saying such things to avoid paying full compensation to the workers.”
Tanjib-ul-Alam, a Supreme Court lawyer, echoed Nasim’s words, and termed the trade body’s attitude very irresponsible.
“It was not an act of God at all. The heavy generators on the rooftops created strong vibrations — enough to make the building collapse.”

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