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Inadequate safety measures despite repeated fire incidents
Govinda Shil

          The government as well as business leaders Friday expressed their deep shock at the tragic death of nearly 90 workers in a devastating fire in a garment factory in Chittagong.
Garment manufacturers admitted that they did not take lessons from the past mistakes and that a tripartite alliance between manufacturers, workers and government needed to enforce safety regulations.
The government Friday declared tougher actions against safety rule violators and formed permanent "monitoring and safety cells" to oversee more than 4,000 apparel-sewing units across the country.
At least 338 people died in fire incidents at garment factories in the last 17 years. Allegations have it that many garment factories still lack in adequate safety measures.
Commerce Advisor Barkat Ullah Bulu said he is designing a set of rules that will keep gates of all apparel factories open during operation.
He said the ill-fated KTS garment had not complied with safety rules and that was why the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) refused make it a member.
Bulu said the apparel manufacturers must understand that they do not have any option other than going by the rules. He said the frequent accidents have tarnished the image of the country as an exporter and the situation must improve.
"The gates of the garment factories would have be wider and kept open from now on during operation," Bulu declared.
But, the trade union leaders and activists said the government and the manufacturers have completely failed to enforce already existing safety regulations.
"The government rather serves the purposes of the garment manufacturers," observed Ziaul Hoque Mukta, an activist of Karmajibi Nari.
Many other trade union leaders said it would be difficult for Bangladesh to sell apparel products in the near future if such incidents continue.
"Many international organisations are active in Bangladesh and we all want to ensure a safe and good working environment for the workers," Mukta said.
A fire incident in Sun Knitting in Narayanganj on January 7, 2005 killed 23 persons. In April Spectrum Garment at Savar township collapsed, killing 64 workers.
"Compliance is just limited in papers, it is never being in practice," said Amirul Huq Amin, general secretary of National Garments Workers Federation (NGWF).
The NGWF has demanded Tk 0.5 million in compensation for each workers killed while Karmajibi Nari said they ask for Tk 0.7 million.
"We do not have enough fund. But I will urge our fellow members to contribute as much as they can," said Tipu Munshi, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
He was visiting Chittagong Friday evening to see for himself the possible causes of the accidents. "I would take stern action against the factory owner for this accident," Munshi said.
"Enough is enough. The manufacturers must show some respects to their workers by complying with safety rules," said Mir Nasir Hossain, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI).
He said keys of the factories still remain in secret places and doors are kept shut during operation, raising the possibility of stampede and more injuries.
"The keys must be kept in transparent glass boxes in a open place so that any one could use it during emergency," Nasir observed.
"It is unfortunate that we are not taking lessons from mistakes. But we must learn now about compliance and remain strict while enforcing safety rules. The government agencies must come forward here," said Fazlul Haque, president of BKMEA.


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