04/24/2014, 00.00
BANGLADESH
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Rana Plaza, a year after, amid the government's failed promises and survivors' rehabilitation

by Nozrul Islam
Thousands of people, including garments workers and their families, held a memorial vigil today for the 1,135 victims of the Rana Plaza collapse. The disaster was the worst accident in the country's garment industry. Although the road ahead is still long, workplace safety is now on the agenda. However, only a few families have received compensation and many workers who survived the ordeal have not been hired back to work.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - More than 10,000 people took part in a sit-in in Dhaka this morning at the site where, until a year ago, stood the Rana Plaza building, whose collapse killed 1,135, injuring thousands more.

On the first anniversary of the worst accident in Bangladesh's garment industry, thousands of people held a vigil to remember the victims, and ask the government for justice and economic assistance.

Some of the families of the victims also blocked the Dhaka-Aricha highway, which leads to the neighbourhood where the implosion occurred.

A year after the tragedy some changes have been made. The event sent shockwaves and has had some positive impact. Now the question is how many promises will be kept and for how long.

Thanks to greater international media coverage, the first positive consequence was greater focus on safety in the workplace.

The Rana Plaza was an eight-storey structure built on soft ground that had been condemned for failing to respect safety rules. Yet, more than 3,000 people worked in it.

On that fateful 24 April 2013, company bosses forced employees to go to work, except for an NGO that rented space in the building.

For workers, things appear to have improved after the minimum wage was increased, a measure taken by many firms. This however also resulted in job losses.

How companies recruit workers has also come under scrutiny. Now companies no longer hire underage workers.

Compensation remains the greatest sore point. Although the government received a lot of local and international economic aid, little is known about what happened to the funds.

Cash money has been paid out to the families who lost members in the disaster (between US$ 1,500 and 7,000 per family), but more than 100 families got nothing because their loved ones are still missing. Thus, Caritas Bangladesh's action on behalf of families of missing victims who need to prove their death is an important initiative.

Other important initiatives have been taken in terms of rehabilitation and help for the injured or permanently maimed.

The action undertaken by Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP-Bangladesh), an organisation founded in 1979 in Savar by Briton Valerie Taylor, is one example, but other private groups have also been involved in treating maimed or injured people.

The government however has not lived up to its promises. Many workers who survived the disaster are still unemployed, and many families who lost loved ones have not received what was pledged, especially in terms of funding children's education.

The special investigation into the Rana disaster has also not been completed. Most of the blame has been placed on the building's owner. Some reports indicate that he bought some permits; yet no one is investigating who sold them to him.

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