Hasib’s death in harness

YOUNG LIVES MATTER

The death of young garment worker Rashedul Islam Hasib exposed the way factory authorities are continuously violating the national labour laws.  The new safety regimes implemented after the Rana Plaza collapse are focused on the structural improvements of factory building or the new fire safety measures but, Hasib’s death had shattered young workers illusions of safety, writes Nahid Riyasad.

The fellow apparel workers of Salma stage demonstration. Salma, a worker of Esco garment in Mirpur Shawrapara died in her illness while she working mandatory overtime. 15th January 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The fellow apparel workers of Salma stage demonstration. Salma, a worker of Esco garment in Mirpur Shawrapara died in her illness while she working mandatory overtime. 15th January 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh. – Taslima Akhter

Rashedul Islam Hasib (25), a young garment worker died an unfortunate, preventable death. Hasib was a worker of H R Textile Mills Limited situated at Dhaka’s outskirt Savar. It was a Saturday. Hasib had his breakfast with last night’s leftover and went to work. He had a fever though. As he was walking to his work, he told his co-worker and neighbour that he was not feeling well.

After couple of hours into his shift, Hasib felt very unwell and asked for sick leave from his supervisor. His request was immediately turned down. Hasib then went to his line chief and met with the same response. The floor manager denied his request for leave, but sent him to the medical centre of the factory. Medical officer of the factory gave him a couple of pain killers and sent him back to work again. Instead of feeling better with the prescribed medicines, he felt his fever increasing, as Hasib expressed to his co-worker.

Rashedul Islam Hasib's dead body, May 05 , 2018.

Rashedul Islam Hasib’s dead body, May 05 , 2018. – Mominur Rahman Momin/ facebook

At lunch, he could barely eat, but he has no option but to return to his machine. However, he could not carry on for long. Suddenly Hasib fainted on his desk. According to eyewitness Shahin, a co-worker of Hasib, they tried to rush him to the hospital but Hasib couldn’t fight more, he breathed his last on the stairs of the factory. Hasib is not the first garment worker who died at work due to the sheer negligence of the factory management. On the morning of October 13, 2016, Taslima Aktar arrived at the gates of Windy Apparels, in the industrial suburb of Ashulia, where she had been employed as a sewing operator for a year. For two weeks, the 23 year-old was unwell, but her supervisor had refused her repeated requests for sick leave. That morning, as she was walking to her machine, she was already feeling faint, but when she approached her line manager about going home early, he refused her again. Shortly afterward, she passed out and was rushed to the factory clinic, only to be sent back to her sewing machine. As the floor emptied out for lunch, she collapsed again. This time, she couldn’t be revived. Taslima was taken to the nearest hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Her death certificate noted that she died of cardiac failure following ‘severe respiratory distress.’

July 26, 2010. Humayun Kabir, a man in his late 20s, was a quality inspector at Dress World Limited in Savar.  His co-workers made the same complaint that his repeated request for sick leave was denied by the factory authority. He died on the way to hospital after he fell ill while working.

On December 30, 2007, Salma, a garment worker of S Q Sweaters Limited was feeling sick during her night shift. Like Hasib, Taslima and Humayun, her request for sick leave was also denied. She tried to take rest lying underneath her machine. Next morning, she died at home. Workers in her factory, SQ Sweaters Ltd, began to protest, declaring that the management was responsible for her death. Workers from other factories also joined the protest.

Agitated co-workers of Hasib took to the roads in front of HR Textile Mills Limited , Ulail , Savar .

Agitated co-workers of Hasib took to the roads in front of HR Textile Mills Limited , Ulail , Savar . – Mominur Rahman Momin / facebook

Hasib, Taslima, Humayun, and Salma — their death could have been prevented; if they were granted the sick leave they are legally entitled. The Chapter ix, Clause 116 of national labour law clearly suggests that, ‘All workers employed in a factory shall be entitled to get 14 (fourteen) days sick leave with full average wages. Provided, such a leave shall not be granted unless a registered physician employed by the employer or any registered physician has certified his or her illness.’ For the clear violation of labour law, factory authorities have never been brought to justice. Negligence tolerated on part of the factory authorities results into continued death of young workers at workplace.

With deep frustration and anger, Shah Alam, a long-term labour organiser from Savar says, ‘We are nothing but machines to them. Supervisors had routinely denied requests for sick leave for anyone who wasn’t violently ill. One described to me about a co-worker being warned that she would be fired if she didn’t return from sick leave after a single day. Even if I am on my death bed, they will ask me to finish making two more pieces before I die.’

Palash Hossain, orgasinational secretary of the Savar unit of Garment Workers’ Unity Forum, was also a worker at H R Textile Mills Limited. He described that day, ‘We understood that Hasib was already dead by then, the factory authority had somehow managed an ambulance and boarded Hasib’s lifeless body. Workers sensed that the authority might want to dump the body in order to avoid an uprising, so we revolted. We took to the streets and demanded for immediate compensation.’

Labour organisers have raised questions about the ethical integrity of the health care providers appointed at the medical centres or clinics inside the factory. Drawing from their experience, they say, the health care providers there very rarely support a worker’s request for leave. Instead, they prescribe generic pain killers or antibiotics randomly. In the case of Hasib’s death, his co-workers said that Hasib’s health worsened after he had taken the medicine prescribed by the physicians stationed at the clinic of the factory. Workers’ claim is not unfounded as a study conducted by eminent physicians and public health researchers in the country concluded that irrational prescribing practices are evident in the factory clinics. A study result shows, ‘Some of irrational practices like poly pharmacy, overuse of antibiotics and vitamins, no use of generic names, and less prescribed from essential drug list. It is suggested that the periodic evaluation of prescribing practices at the healthcare facilities should be done by proper involvement of physician, nurse and pharmacist for the rational use of medicine (Afsan et al., 2013).’

The national labour law also stipulates that RMG factories have an on-site clinic with one or more full-time nurses as the Section 44 (4) says, ‘In every factory wherein five hundred or more workers are employed, there shall be provided and maintained an ambulance room or dispensary of the prescribed size containing the prescribed equipment or similar facilities, in the charge of such medical and nursing staff as may be prescribed.’ The clinics at factories are there also to meet the social compliance standards largely set by the global buyers. The death of Hasib and other garment workers proved that, these are just a façade to earn the compliance certificate.

Mominur Rahman Momin, a long term garment worker and a central committee member of Garment Workers’ Unity Forum told New Age Youth,  ‘I used to work in a tier-1 garment factory and got a lungs infection due to working condition, the medical facility doctor, upon consulting, said that he cannot prescribe anything but painkillers. I think this is time we start to question the quality of those medical facilities.’ Momin blamed the negligence of the factory authority and termed Hasib’s death as a case of culpable homicide, ‘If he got that leave, he might have gotten another chance at living, his toddler son might never lose his father in such unfortunate manner.’

Momin’s remark rings true. Hasib’s life met with a tragic end at a time when things just started to work in his favour.  As a child he lost his mother. His father, an Imam, re-married in no time. According to account of his relative, his step-mother did not treat him well. His family was in poverty with many siblings, hence, his father could not simply invest in his studies. In this situation, he could manage education only till fifth grade. After that, he dropped out of school and started working here and there as a child labourer. In the nearby Zanjagi Bazar of his hometown in Kurigram district, he worked in several stores throughout his teen age. At late teens, with the help of a friend, he came to Dhaka and secured a job at a garment factory in Savar. After working there for a year, he switched to H R Textile Mills Limited. He worked there until he died.

Abida Sultana, Hasib’s niece, described this past two years, ‘After my uncle secured a job at a garment factory in Dhaka, we all were really happy for him. It means that he has a regular job, he can start a family now. His relatives then arranged his marriage and he had his own family. With the birth of his son, his life seemed complete. He was happy.’

However, due to the negligence of the factory management at H R Textile Mills Limited, his happiness was short-lived.  Hasib’s wife Jesmin confirms that she had received the compensation money of Tk eight lakhs, ‘This is big money for us to be honest, but can I buy my little boy his father back with this money? Will I be able to get my husband back?’ Jesmin’s question compels us to ask, should compensation be the only response from the factory management in a situation when death is clearly caused from the clear violation of labour law? Should we not demand an investigation into the practices of the factory management and health service providers who had failed young workers — Hasib, Taslima, Humayun, and Salma?

The new safety regimes implemented after the Rana Plaza collapse are focused on the structural improvements of the building or the new fire safety measures but, Hasib’s death had shattered workers’ illusions of safety. As Shah Alam says, ‘Perhaps buildings are safer, but as workers in the factory we still don’t have any security in our lives. What happened to Hasib yesterday could happen to any one of us tomorrow.’

 

Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.       

 

 

 

 

 

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