What the papers say

Where Are We? Eight Years Later

A weekly round up of articles about employment, the labour market, skills training and workforce development. This week’s round up is drawn from The Daily Star. Here is the news for the week ending 29th April 2021.

This Week in the Bangladesh English News…

…It is the eight-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy. What is the status of the garment industry and worker safety? Stakeholder give their perspectives.

Education and Labour Market

On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people and injuring 2,500. It is the deadliest workplace accident in Bangladesh’s history. The eight year anniversary renewed scrutiny of the event and its aftermath.

Daily Star reporter Refayet Ullah Mirdha noted constructive changes: the labour law has been amended twice since 2013, 4,000 factories were inspected by initiatives borne from the tragedy, 3,000 factories have implemented remediation changes, a central fund for the welfare of worker was established, the Department for Inspection of Factories and Establishments (DIFE) was established and the labour ministry developed a publicly accessible garment factory database.

“Bangladesh has come a long way since the 2013 tragedy,” said International Labour Organization Country Director Tuomo Poutiainen in an interview with The Daily Star. Yet, more needs to be done, he said.  “The ILO is now actively working with the government, employers and the workers’ organisations on establishing a trial (pilot) of an employment injury scheme, starting in the readymade garment sector.”

“The main reason for the building collapse can be attributed to failure by relevant authorities to enforce national planning and building regulations and the building owner ignoring legal licensing procedures.”

– ILO Country Director Tuomo Poutiainen

Some survivors of the Rana Plaza collapse are now experiencing unemployment, according to ActionAid Bangladesh. Among 200 survivors surveyed, 57 percent reported they are unemployed.

And Bangladesh Garment Workers Solidarity president Taslima Akhter said authorities and employers have failed to properly compensate victims; money has been given to victims by the Rana Plaza Trust Fund funded by public and private donations, but she said this is not the compensation that workers are legally entitled to receive.

For five years, the trial of the murder charges in connection with the Rana Plaza collapse have been stalled. Murder charges were filed against the Rana Plaza building owner and 40 others in 2015, but some of the accused filed appeals challenging the indictments with higher courts and secured stay orders on the trial proceedings. Meanwhile, the building owner, Sohel Rana, is in jail after he was found guilty of graft in 2017.

According to Bangladesh’s labour laws, when workers are retrenched they are entitled to 30 days of wages for each year of employment and any provident funds they have accumulated. But after shutting Dragon Sweaters factory, Dragon Group has failed to pay workers most of the $130,000 it owes them, according to the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) in a report titled “Fired then Robbed”. Dragon Group owns other subsidiaries and has the financial capacity to pay workers, says the report.  

A survey of 610 factories by the Centre for Policy Dialogue found that, as of October and November 2020, 96.4 percent of factories did not act in accordance with compensation laws when retrenching workers.   

In some cases, factories cannot pay wages or compensation because buyers fail to pay for orders; “Even an employer that does not wish to cheat workers of severance may be placed by brands in the position of not being able to avoid doing so,”  says the WRC’s report.

Financial Services

Brac Bank will receive a $30 million loan from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of World Bank Group. Brac Bank is expected to use the funds to disperse loans to Covid-impacted businesses in Bangladesh. The financing is part of the IFC’s promise to fast-track $8 billion in financing in response to the Covid-19-related crisis.

Business, Investments, Trade and Growth

The absence of a shared, central database of citizens has been a challenge in the delivery of financial assistance during the Covid-19 pandemic. But four months back, the Cabinet Division committee sent a proposal to the Prime Minister’s Office to establish exactly that. Currently, the Election Commission operates the National Identity (NID) database. The Local Government Division has its own database, and the health and family welfare ministry has data from its periodical health census. Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics is developing a “poverty” database, and none of these databases are interoperable.

The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics began work on the poverty database, the National Household Database (NHD), in 2013 with a deadline set for 2017. Seven years later, and the database has not been completed. Data on the socioeconomic status of a sample of households was collected in 2017 and 2018, but experts have expressed concern that the data is dated and incomplete.

Some 338 textile and garment factories have cut water and energy consumption with solutions from the Partnership for Cleaner Textile (PaCT), a programme by the International Finance Corporation. The solutions, such as new technologies and processes, are saving 28.7 billion litres of water and 2.9 million megawatt-hours of electricity per year, said the PaCT. Mohammed Al Tauhidul Islam, assistant general manager of the sustainability department of Envoy Textile Ltd., said that in 2016 the company used about 60 litres of water to produce one kilogram of denim fabrics, but with PaCT’s assistance, the rate is down to 45 litres per kilogram of denim. 

Farmers and Agriculture

Sea water continues to affect rivers in coastal areas, with serious consequences for farmers. When rivers become more salinated, groundwater and soil salinity increases and that reduces vegetation growth. The country’s 21 coastal districts contain about 25-30 percent of the country’s arable land, and already 53 percent of this land has been affected by saline, according to a study by Khulna University. For these reasons, in a 2007 report the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) predicted rice production in Bangladesh may fall by 10 percent and wheat production by 30 percent by 2050. Often, farmers in saline-affected areas turn to shrimp farming. But farmers are also encouraged to cultivate saline-tolerant crops, said the agriculture minister. The minister said scientists have developed a saline tolerant variety of rice for farmers in affected areas.

Other News

The government of Bangladesh stopped administering first doses of the coronavirus vaccine, as supply is running low due to India’s ban on vaccine exports. As per a signed agreement with the Serum Institute of India, doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine were expected, but have not been delivered. Now, according to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), the country needs about 1 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for second shots.

The government granted emergency-use authorisation for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, paving the way for imports of the vaccine. Russia will deliver doses in May and June, said an official. Authorities also approved the possibility of Bangladesh drug makers producing the Sputnik V vaccine or China’s Sinopharm vaccine, although there are no details on which companies might produce either vaccine.