Fire Kills 46, Seriously Injures Over 100
From Saiful Huq, BALU
900 people, mostly women, were inside a garment factory when the country's worst ever factory fire broke out around 7.00 p.m. on Saturday 25 November 2000. The Chowdhury Knitwear Garment Factory was 40 miles from capital Dhaka.
46 workers died. Four burned to death, some choked or were electrocuted, and others were trampled in the panic to climb out of windows. The factory had only one door, but this was kept locked for 'security reasons'. Many injuries occurred when escapees leaped from windows.
Eight of the dead workers were between ten and fifteen years old. Child labour is illegal in Bangladesh, but authorities turn a blind eye allowing widespread use of underage workers, even in the countryside.
The fire took four hours to control. Hundreds of workers attended hospital to treat injuries.
Local and national trade unions, political parties, students, and civil organisations organised many demonstrations in Narsindi district. They demanded arrest of the factory owner and managers, but the police have not done so, claiming that it was an accident.
Saiful Huq, General Secretary of the BALU union says it is a criminal offence to lock the building's only access door while workers are inside.
The government is now "considering" installation of sprinkler systems in the 2,000 garment factories in Bangladesh. Activists suspect that as time passes this demand will be forgotten. They also blame the government for the disaster, saying the reason safety is so neglected is because they want to encourage foreign investment.
The government formed an enquiry committee which decided to compensate the injured with Taka 5,000 (about US$90, US$1 = Taka 55); families of the dead are to be given Taka 100,000 (US$1,818). About one third of the families had accepted the offer by mid January.
Factory owner, Sagar Chowdhury, has not been charged. He claims that he was on site at the time, that the factory door was open, and that he managed to exit without problem.
Saiful Huq says the BALU union is demanding a government programme to address occupational safety and health, child labour, and working time. Workers routinely work more than ten hours with no overtime, as employers use the piecework trick.
There have been countless factory fires in Bangladesh over the last ten years killing over 500 workers.
ALU predicts there will be similar factory fires in the near future throughout Asia for exactly the same reason as this disaster - locked exits and no sprinkler system. More fire deaths are bound to occur until employers are forced to treat workers' safety as seriously as they regard making profit.
Police Kill Strikers
From World Socialist Web Site, 9 December 2000
Police killed four strikers at a demonstration over staffing levels at Mongla port, 160 kilometres from capital Dhaka on 5 December. More than 100 others were injured.
In 1999, union leaders negotiated a staffing agreement with management, which workers found unacceptable.
Defying union instructions, over 2,000 workers struck on 1 December.
The strikers' progress was blocked by police who then shot 40 teargas canisters and 141 rounds of live ammunition at the crowd, causing the deaths.