Rana Plaza Collapse Victims Still Waiting For Compensation

Bangladesh Factory Collapse Victims Still Waiting For Compensation

WASHINGTON -- After the Rana Plaza factory collapse killed 1,132 garment workers and injured more than 2,500 in April, the Bangladeshi government and a garment manufacturers association promised financial assistance and other benefits to victims and their families. But over three months later, those expecting payments say they're still waiting.

Several hundred injured workers and families of the deceased took to the streets in protest on Sunday and Monday in front of the site of the Rana Plaza collapse at Savar, near Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka. Police clubbed the protesters with batons, according to multiple protesters and witnesses interviewed by The Huffington Post. (All interviews for this story were conducted in Bengali).

The Bangladeshi government pledged injured workers and family members of the deceased $1,200 in cash, $19,236 in savings certificates and an additional $1,200 lump sum in life insurance benefits, the Daily Star, a Bangladeshi newspaper, reported.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, a trade group representing companies that operated in the collapsed building, also stepped up to help in the wake of the collapse, saying it planned to collect $320 from each of the over 5,000 association members to contribute to the prime minister's fund, a preexisting government reserve that assists people during disasters. The association also pledged that it would pay all workers from the collapse for the next three months, and would send those requiring serious medical assistance abroad at the association's expense.

But according to Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmed of the Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies, a labor advocacy organization, none of the 4,000 families affected by the disaster have received the full payments promised by the government or association. Roughly 350 survivors and family members of the deceased received between $1,200 and $2,500 from the prime minister's relief fund -- a paltry sum for the lost lives, he said.

The garment manufactures' association told HuffPost that it has paid out the wages earned by workers in the month before the disaster. But Ahmed said that while survivors have received that money, the family members of the deceased have not. And nobody's seen the three-month payout promised, Ahmed added.

When contacted by HuffPost last week, BGMEA Vice President SM Mannan Kochi said the businesses that owned factories at the nine-story Rana Plaza can't afford to compensate the workers.

"The collapse has ruined everything they had," Kochi said. "How will they pay the compensation?"

Kochi said the organization plans to raise funds from different sources other than its members in order to help the victims of Rana Plaza. Asked why the country's top business association, which represents a $20 billion industry, would have to depend on others to solve a problem created by the negligence of its members, Kochi said, "BGMEA is a nonprofit organization and committed to serve only its members."

It appears there is no similar organization to serve the workers.

Nuresta lost her parents to the collapse. Since then, the four-year-old orphan has moved to her maternal grandparents in Dinajpur, nearly 200 miles from Savar, the Dhaka suburb where the building collapsed.

"She is still a young kid and we have to raise her, but we don't have the means," Md Monwar Hossain, Nuresta's maternal uncle, told HuffPost. Since his sister's death, Hossain is the only breadwinner for Nuresta's maternal grandparents' family. "The child is completely unaware of the loss she has suffered."

Labor rights advocates told HuffPost that the small amount of financial assistance offered out of the prime minister's relief fund has been distributed arbitrarily, based on whoever is able to make their way to the prime minister's office in Dhaka to make a claim.

Nuresta's paternal grandparents said they received about $2,500 from the prime minister's relief fund for the death of her father, Nur Islam.

"Her paternal grandparents received the amount, and did not give her a share," Hossain said. "Now, we only wait to test her luck whether or not her mother's death earns her something."

It's highly unlikely that Nuresta will be able to receive money for her mother's death anytime soon. Her relatives must prove she really lost her mother, Syeda Begum, in the collapse. Syeda's body was never found, and her relatives believe she's in one of the 291 graves where unidentified bodies were buried. Samples were extracted from Nuresta's grandmother for a DNA test, but the authorities say it will take at least three months to complete, Hossain said.

Ahmed charged that the 400 missing person claims could have been verified by the police or government intelligence agencies in a matter of days, but said that the government has not set up a help desk to coordinate with surviving family members.

"Those families could have been helped with a certain amount of monthly allowance until the results of the DNA tests come out," he said. "This should not be a mammoth task for the government."

Meanwhile, survivors have struggled to rebuild their lives. Nuresta's uncle Hossain, who is 21, stopped working in the garment industry and has become a mason's helper since the collapse. His new profession offers less steady income, but his parents don't want him working in the garment industry after the death of his only sister and her husband, he said.

"The situation into which these workers have been forced is completely because of the government's indifference and lack of initiative," Ahmed said.

While victims rallied outside of Rana Plaza this week, workers from factories in the capital's suburban industrial zones like Savar and Gazipur continued to demonstrate on Tuesday, demanding wages and bonus compensation ahead of the Muslim religious festival Eid-ul Fitr this week.

"The unrest is expected to spread as the government seeks to settle the issue by force rather than finding a reconciliation to the workers' legitimate demands," Selim Ahmed, a bdnews24.com reporter, told HuffPost from the scene.

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