Workplace safety - a global movement

Dhaka,  Sun,  24 September 2017
Published : 06 Jun 2016, 19:51:54

Workplace safety - a global movement

Md Mojibur Rahman Bhuiyan

A strong voice has been raised worldwide by workers for safer workplace. Labour market structure and institutions have been changed to reduce labour cost for more profit through downsizing, outsourcing and subcontracting resulting in dangerous deterioration in workplace safety. Workers of the global supply chain of the world's powerful multinational companies are nothing but modern slaves.

But safe workplace, occupational health and safety (OHS) is an integral part of human rights as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The annual death toll from work-related accidents and diseases stands at 2.3 million. The most updated information shows that there are almost 360,000 fatal occupational accidents every year and 2.0 million fall victim to fatal work-related diseases. More than 960,000 workers get hurt because of accidents and on an average, 5,330 workers die because of work-related diseases. Furthermore, over 50,000 children under 14 years are estimated to die annually from work-related accidents. In economic term, it is estimated that around 4.0 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) is lost globally.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Global Union Federation (GUF) have called for safer workplaces and instructed their affiliates to place high importance on the role of trade unions in improving occupational health and safety.  

We must think globally but act locally. Since 1989, trade unions in North America, Asia, Europe and Africa have been organising events on April 28. April 28 is now recognised by ILO and ITUC as International Workers Memorial Day. In 2001, the ILO recognised Workers Memorial Day and declared it World Day for Safe and Healthy Workplace. In 2002, ILO announced that April 28 should be an official day in the United Nations system. Subsequently, the suggestion was accepted in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 7).

Since 1996, when the first such commemoration took place at the UN, the international trade union movement has observed and promoted April 28 around the world. Many countries have officially recognised April 28 as the International Day for Dead and Injured Workers. We cannot forget the death of our workers of Tazrin Fashions nor can we forget Rana Plaza, which was a manmade disaster killing more than 1,200 workers.

ILO, ITUC, GUF and many other international organisations were in touch with this writer who wrote about the rescue of the Miracle Girl. The Rana Plaza collapse death toll reached 1,085 which was unbelievable. Also incredible was the story of the rescue of a garment worker Reshma on the 17th day of the collapse. It was a miracle. After rescue, Reshma said, "It's good to see daylight after so many days." She smiled and said, "I am well. No big injury".

After the killings of workers at Rana Plaza, consumers in Europe and the USA compelled retailers to see and ensure that workplaces of garment workers are safe. ACCORD and ALLIANCE platforms of European and USA retailers have been working to ensure that remediation process of all factories could be completed by June 2018. Fire at plastic factories also killed workers. So Bangladesh should recognise April 28, officially, and remember all the dead and the injured workers of the globe. Srinivas Reddy, Director, ILO Bangladesh office has been tirelessly working for improving safety in workplaces and handled compensation cases very efficiently.

ILO says, it is concerned about safe work and awareness of dimensions and consequences of work-related accidents and diseases. It has placed occupational safety and health (OSH) on international and national agendas and provides support to the national efforts for improvement of national OSH systems and programmes in time with relevant international labour standards.

Occupational safety and health (OSH) is recognised as an indispensable workers' right as it deals directly or partially with almost of all ILO instruments. Full safety and healthy conditions at workplace are essential pre-requisites for a just society. In fact, we are deeply concerned that despite growing attention to OSH worldwide, reflecting increasing number of ratifications of relevant ILO conventions, there has been persistently high number of death tolls from work-related accidents and diseases.

Bangladesh has ratified ILO convention 182 on worst form of child labour but a recent study revealed that child labour has increased despite huge campaign by many social actors who work on child labour. We are also concerned that the situation in the South Asian region is much more serious than other regions.

Social and economic burdens of industrial accidents and diseases are not borne only by affected workers and their families but also by the community. In Bangladesh, we did not find any employers admitting occupational diseases. They say it has been inherited from his/her parents, not because of work in factories. This is very unfortunate and unacceptable. No employer has medical equipment to find out whether the disease came from the occupation. There is no social safety net or social scheme for those unfortunate workers who are killed or injured. Compensation for industrial accidents is very low. Injured workers are vulnerable to being unemployed for longer period or forced to low-paid jobs.

Trade union is the most effective tool to ensure workplace health and safety since decent work is safe work which is only realised where workers' rights are respected. Unfortunately, national centres or national trade union federations are too weak in Bangladesh because of multiplicity of trade unions. However, basic union at enterprise level can play a vital role to have social dialogue with employers to ensure safe workplace. The government and employers also need to understand the importance of safe workplace and healthy workforce to achieve higher productivity and economic development of the country.

The writer is the General Secretary of Bangladesh Mukto Sramik Federation.

Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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