14 Mar 2021 Ferado

Female apparel workers demand dignity and recognition

Female apparel workers commended the efforts taken by the country’s apparel industry to ensure the wellbeing of the workforce which makes the biggest contributions to Sri Lanka’s economy.

The female representatives of the Sri Lanka Chamber of Garment Exporters (SLCGE), member of Joint Apparel Association Forum, made these remarks during a press conference held in Colombo on the occasion of International Women’s Day. The press conference focused on the welfare and betterment of the living standards of women engaged in various occupations in the apparel industry in Sri Lanka and the representatives emphasized the importance of taking steps not to limit the recognition of the role of women in the garment industry, the biggest strength of the national economy of the country, to Women’s Day.

Women make up about 85% of the workforce in the apparel industry in Sri Lanka, especially in the rural areas and is one of the key employment generating sectors to strengthen the economy of women. A female apparel worker said that the garment industry in Sri Lanka has become a leading partner in the flow of women’s employment, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs for women and giving them the opportunity to play a leading role in the country’s economy.

It was also noted that the apparel industry itself is significantly contributing to the uplifting of the living standards of women involved in it while working towards enhancing their lifestyle.

Many women delegates who attended the press conference were of the view that women in the garment industry have a high standard of living and play a dignified role in strengthening their economy and improving the lives of their family members.

“The media, teledramas etc. always showcase the female workers in the apparel industry as an underprivileged and less fortunate group of people. This is not entirely true,” a representative said.

“The women in the garment industry have the opportunity to successfully strengthen their future by receiving promotions and pay rises based on the quality of their work, and the opportunities and privileges available to them are immeasurable,” an apparel worker said.

In the garment industry, mainly dominated by females, employers pay special attention to their problems and make a significant contribution to making their economy self-sufficient by providing incentives, attendance allowances and other benefits in addition to the monthly salary, free uniforms, transportation, etc.

A spokeswoman for the apparel industry said that the entertainment, annual outings and free meals were a big boost.

The speakers also commended the management of the garment industry for taking necessary steps to address the day-to-day economic problems of their employees and taking steps to pay the salaries and other incentives on time, even during the COVID-19 pandemic which has greatly affected the industries around the world. The women delegates who participated in the event highly commended the employers for focusing more on the health of their employees, adhering to the rules and regulations imposed by the Ministry of Health during the pandemic times, and for setting the stage for the continuation of the manufacturing process and securing their jobs. The garment workers also expressed their gratitude to the management for setting up special quarantine centers for their employees who have been infected with COVID-19, and also their close associates.

While the whole world celebrated Women’s Day, the apparel workers in Sri Lanka were of the view that the value, importance and the attention given to women should not be limited to just one day.

They added that it should be the same throughout the year and that the government should intervene to secure the role of women in this patriarchal society. The importance of creating an institution in the garment industry for women to pursue higher education relevant to their occupations was also emphasized.

“On media all you see is the condemning of the professional dignity of women entering the garment industry. Through works of art and other means of media, it is necessary to give a correct picture and take steps to avoid that situation,” the women delegates who attended the press conference added.

14 Mar 2021 Ferado

Bangladesh shipbreakers win right to sue UK owners in landmark ruling

Appeal court clears wife to sue company in London over husband’s death while helping to scrap tanker in Chittagong

Shipbreakers at work in Chittagong
Shipbreakers at work in Chittagong. The metal rope is attached to large sections that have been cut from the main hull and are then dragged closer to the shore. Photograph: Sean Smith/The Guardian

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About this contentJohn VidalThu 11 Mar 2021 15.42 GMT

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British shipping companies that sell old vessels to be scrapped cheaply in dangerous, low-paid conditions in Bangladesh, India or Pakistan may now be sued in London for workers’ deaths or injuries.

In the first ruling of its kind by any higher court anywhere in the world, the court of appeal of England and Wales has held that a shipping company in London selling a vessel in south Asia could owe a legal “duty of care” to shipbreaking workers in Bangladesh even where there are multiple third parties involved in the transaction.

The landmark ruling means that Hamida Begum whose husband, Khalid Mollah, fell to his death in 2018 while working high up on a 300,000-ton oil tanker on the beach at Chittagong will now be able to sue the shipping company Maran (UK) in London.

But by putting the legal spotlight on the notoriously lax environmental and health and safety practices in Bangladesh, the ruling may open the gates for other cases and force Asian shipbreaking yards to improve working conditions.

The ruling follows decisions on two other long-running cases where impoverished communities in low-income countries were also given permission to sue multinational companies or their subsidiaries in London for alleged environmental pollution or damages.

Last month the supreme court ruled that a group of Nigerian farmers and fishers could sue Royal Dutch Shell in the English courts over pollution in a region where the Anglo-Dutch energy giant has a subsidiary. Shell had argued that it was not responsible.

In a second landmark ruling, the supreme court ruled in 2019 that Zambian villagers could sue UK-based mining conglomerate Vedanta in the English courts for alleged water pollution because, as the parent body of the mining company working in Zambia, it owed the villagers a duty of care and could be held responsible.

An estimated 216 workers have died in the past 15 years at the shipbreaking yards of Chittagong, including seven so far this year. Many more have been disabled or seriously injured.

Work in Chittagong is well-known for being precarious, dirty and dangerous, but shipping companies have been able to avoid responsibility by changing ownership of vessels at the last minute, and using tax havens and middlemen.

Hundreds of people, mostly without contracts, are injured or die every year in falls, explosions and accidents. The coastal environment is heavily polluted with oils, asbestos and dangerous chemicals and few people can work for more than a few years in the intense tropical heat without being physically injured.Q&A

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London law firm Leigh Day argued that Mollah’s accident was foreseeable and that Maran (UK), which sold the tanker for demolition to a Dubai-based company, would have known it was going to Chittagong for demolition and should have anticipated the risk of injury to workers such as Mollah demolishing it.

Leigh Day contended that the shipping industry takes deliberate advantage of Bangladesh’s weak regulations. The result, it argued, is that wealthy shipowners get the highest prices for scrap vessels in the practical certainty that they will be broken up in Bangladesh where health and safety standards are lower than in more expensive but safer yards.

Maran argued that it did not control the ship’s ultimate destination and that there was nothing it could have, or should have, done to avoid the risks to the deceased. But Lord Justice Coulson said: “… the appellant could, and should, have insisted on the sale to a so-called ‘green’ yard, where proper working practices were in place”.

According to NGO Shipbreaking Platform, more than 70% of approximately 800 vessels that reach the end of their operating lives every year are broken up in Bangladesh, India or Pakistan.

Standard practice is that sales of end-of-life ships are not conducted directly between shipowners and shipbreakers themselves, but through demolition cash buyers who assume the credit risk, with the result that shipowners are distanced.

Leigh Day director Martyn Day welcomed the appeal court decision. “The English courts have been shown to be sympathetic to these claims by communities whether in Africa or Asia bringing claims against British multinationals.

“Whether it is oil-spill claims against Shell, mine pollution claims against Vedanta or this claim in relation to shipbreaking, London has proved to be one of, if not the only, capitals in the world where claims can successfully be brought,” he said.Topics

14 Mar 2021 Ferado

No progress made in Indian health and safety crisis

The intensifying safety crisis in India is made apparent by the fact that 14 accidents reported in the press in 2021 have already claimed the lives of 42 workers, with about 100 injured. These accidents happened in chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, steel companies and in mines.

In an accident at SIAL Ghogri coal mines, owned by Reliance cement, in Chindwara district of Madhya Pradesh, on 4 March, a contract worker, Rakesh Nikote, 27, died instantly while another worker was seriously injured. The accident happened when the mine roof collapsed while workers were drilling for the roof support. On the same day at Dipika mines in South Eastern Coalfields Limited, cable man Gajpal Singh was killed when a stone from the shovel machine fell on his head.

Avoidable accidents were also reported in the automotive sector. Umesh Ramesh Dhake, a welder of the Automotive Stampings and Assemblies Ltd at Chakan unit, sustained fatal injuries to his head and neck when a robotic unit fell on him due to a possible sensor glitch on 24 February

Three workers were killed, with four missing and 26 injured, when a massive explosion occurred in the early morning on 23 February at the United Phosphorus Ltd plant at the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation’s Jhagadia Industrial estate. Preliminary information suggests that that an electric short circuit may have caused a solvent fire. The accident caused massive pollution and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board ordered the factory to shut down.

In an accident at a fireworks factory on 12 February in the Virudhunagar district in Tamil Nadu, the death toll has now increased to 21 workers.

In an accident at the Gris ceramic tile factory in Rangpar village near Morbi town on 11 February, one of the 12 silos holding 60 to 70 tonnes of clay raw material collapsed. Two of the three workers trapped under the debris were found dead.

From May to December 2020, a compilation of accidents reported in the media in the manufacturing sectors shows that over 118 workers were killed and 682 were injured in about 64 accidents. 55 workers were killed in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry and 43 workers lost their lives in the mining sector – 18 of them coal miners.

According to official statistics, between 2014-2018, 5,800 workers suffered fatal injuries in registered factory accidents. On average at least 1,160 workers were killed in industrial accidents every year. These figures are believed to underestimate the actual death toll. Official numbers for 2019 and 2020 are not yet available, which shows that India needs better reporting and more transparency around accident data.

The states where a large number of fatal injuries occurred during this period are:

  • Gujarat – 1,179
  • Maharashtra – 761
  • Tamilnadu – 451
  • Chattisgarh – 431
  • Andhrapradesh – 341
  • Karnataka – 347
  • Telangana – 304

SQ Zama, secretary general of Indian National Mine Workers’ Federation, said:

“We are seriously concerned over increasing fatal accidents across the country and in mining sector. Unplanned mining activity, pervasive deployment of contract workers without safety training in mining operations, negligence of safety rules and shortages of safety equipment continue to claim workers’ lives. We need to take conscious efforts to stop accidents and the government need to send a strong message and take immediate measures to improve safety.”

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, said

“In June 2020, IndustriALL Global Union warned the government of India to take swift measures to prevent another Bhopal  tragedy.

“It is appalling to see that no significant efforts have been taken by the government of India to address the safety crisis. We reiterate that the government should immediately call for a review of safety regulations. The principles of process safety management need to be integrated into the legislative and regulative framework. Public consultation, involvement of safety experts and unions and full transparency are required to improve safety and prevent accidents and we need to do this immediately”.

11 Mar 2021 Ferado

Death in destination countries

A few days ago a news item carried by The Guardian, a UK daily, created a major stir in the national media of several Asian countries. The piece was an expose of an ongoing tragedy involving deaths of migrant workers in Qatar. It revealed that more than 6,500 migrant workers from South Asia have died since the country earned the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. On average, every week, 12 migrant workers have died since December 2010 while working on various infrastructure projects including stadiums, an airport, roads, the public transport system, hotels and a new city.The report stated that 69 percent of deaths among Indian, Nepali and Bangladeshi workers were officially categorised as “natural”. Other significant causes were road accidents (12 percent) workplace accidents (seven percent) and suicide (seven percent). Interestingly, the classification of natural death was usually made without an autopsy and thus failed “to provide legitimate medical explanation for the underlying cause of these deaths”.The Qatar government did not dispute the number of deaths. The figure includes white collar workers who have died naturally, and the government insists that “the mortality rate among these communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population”. The Guardian report was revealing in many ways. Not only has it highlighted “the lack of transparency, rigour and detail in recording deaths in Qatar”, it maintained that embassies in Doha and labour sending countries were “reluctant to share the data, possibly for political reasons”. The reluctance of the labour sending countries in engaging with the issue is palpably demonstrated in the inconsistencies between figures furnished by various government agencies, largely due to the absence of a “standard format for recording causes of death”.In view of the massive infrastructure development that is taking place in preparation for the World Cup, The Guardian report has zeroed in on Qatar. While such a spotlight helps generate awareness about the ongoing tragedy in the country concerned, we must bear in mind that avoidable premature deaths of relatively young migrant workers is a pervasive phenomenon in all the Gulf states. The deaths in Qatar have given rise to some important insights.Firstly, the unwillingness of both countries of destination and origin to share information and data on deceased workers is a major challenge. Further, lack of clarity and transparency impedes framing of appropriate policies and actions to address problems. It also works as a major barrier for the families of the deceased migrants to access justice and claim compensation.Secondly, the propensity of receiving states in asserting that most workers die of “natural causes” is unacceptable. There is an urgent need for amending laws for ensuring “autopsies to require forensic investigations into all sudden or unexplained deaths”. It is worthwhile to mention that as early as 2014, in a report, the Qatar government’s own lawyers recommended commissioning an independent study into the deaths of migrant workers from cardiac arrest, and amend the law to “allow for autopsies…in all cases of unexpected or sudden death”. There is also the need for labour receiving countries to pay heed to the call of Human Rights Watch to “pass legislation to require that all death certificates include reference to a medically meaningful cause of death”.

thirdly, heat stroke has been identified as an important cause of death of many migrant workers. The ineffectiveness of the summer working hours ban as highlighted by a ILO commissioned study in October 2019 was acknowledged by the Ministry of Labour and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy of Qatar. The study found that workers working outdoors were “potentially performing their job under significant occupational heat stress conditions for at least four months of the year”. The Ministry of Labour disseminated enhanced guidelines on heat stress aimed at workers and employers earlier, but unfortunately those were neither comprehensive nor obligatory for employers and did not come with any enforcement mechanisms. It is also pertinent that Cardiology Journal in July 2019, based on a study on 1,300 Nepali workers between 2009 and 2017, found “a strong correlation between heat stress and young workers dying of cardiovascular problems in the summer months”. The study was conducted by a group of climatologists and cardiologists.In official records, deaths deemed of “natural causes” include cardiac arrest, heart attack, respiratory failure and “sickness”. Analysts have argued that such terms make it impossible to understand whether they may be related to working conditions such as heat stress. Once categorised as “natural causes”, labour laws in most of these countries, including Qatar, deprive the families of any compensation. As an overwhelming majority of migrant workers are the principal breadwinners of their families, the slackness in identifying actual causes of death not only ruin those families, it fails to bring proper closure to the loved ones of the deceased migrants. Cardiac arrest as a cause of death has been viewed as “highly problematic”. The United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers guidance to doctors that “The mechanism of death (for example cardiac or respiratory arrest) should not be reported as the immediate cause of death as it is a statement not specifically related to the disease process, and it merely attest the fact of death” (emphasis added). The Guardian report has drawn attention to the dark reality of labour migration in the Gulf states. In many instances, contract substitution after arrival, not being placed against jobs as per the contract, non-payment and irregular payment of wages, ill treatment and abuse by employers and supervisors, and lack of access to healthcare and redress mechanism—all inflict immeasurable mental harm on the workers. Also, poor living conditions including crammed settings, inadequate water supply, lack of sanitary toilet facilities and the like hinder migrants’ enjoying quality rest during breaks. All these factors, among other conditions, are likely to contribute to hypertension, respiratory or cardiac arrests or exacerbate existing conditions. More than 28,000 bodies of deceased Bangladeshi migrants were repatriated under the auspices of the Wage Earners’ Welfare Board from 2011 to 2020. A majority of those were from the Gulf states. Stroke, heart attack or accidents were assigned as prime reasons for death of men, while women were alleged to have committed either suicide or died of torture. On average, more than seven families received the bodies of their migrant loved ones each day (54 returns per week).Evidence from the field informs us that there have been cases in which bodies with obvious injury marks were certified to have died from proverbial “natural causes”. So far, such malfeasance of the state authorities of destination countries with the acquiescence of the authorities of countries of origin has allowed the tragedies to persist. There is an urgent need to put a halt to this avoidable misfortune. The process should start with the recognition by state authorities of the reality that young migrants are indeed dying of causes that are preventable. This should be followed up by proper investigations in suspected cases after the bodies of deceased migrants arrive in countries of origin. The origin countries should demand that destination countries ensure that all migrants, male and female, in public or domestic spheres, work and live in decent conditions and are able to secure redress of their grievances. They should also push destination countries to conduct mandatory autopsies in all cases of unexpected and sudden deaths and recompense the families if the latter qualify for it. The origin countries should also rally forces in the Colombo Process, Abu Dhabi Dialogue and the Global Forum on Migration and Development to demand an immediate end to this tragedy in the spirit of the much celebrated Global Compact of Migration.

11 Mar 2021 Ferado

Death in destination countries

A few days ago a news item carried by The Guardian, a UK daily, created a major stir in the national media of several Asian countries. The piece was an expose of an ongoing tragedy involving deaths of migrant workers in Qatar. It revealed that more than 6,500 migrant workers from South Asia have died since the country earned the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. On average, every week, 12 migrant workers have died since December 2010 while working on various infrastructure projects including stadiums, an airport, roads, the public transport system, hotels and a new city.The report stated that 69 percent of deaths among Indian, Nepali and Bangladeshi workers were officially categorised as “natural”. Other significant causes were road accidents (12 percent) workplace accidents (seven percent) and suicide (seven percent). Interestingly, the classification of natural death was usually made without an autopsy and thus failed “to provide legitimate medical explanation for the underlying cause of these deaths”.The Qatar government did not dispute the number of deaths. The figure includes white collar workers who have died naturally, and the government insists that “the mortality rate among these communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population”. The Guardian report was revealing in many ways. Not only has it highlighted “the lack of transparency, rigour and detail in recording deaths in Qatar”, it maintained that embassies in Doha and labour sending countries were “reluctant to share the data, possibly for political reasons”. The reluctance of the labour sending countries in engaging with the issue is palpably demonstrated in the inconsistencies between figures furnished by various government agencies, largely due to the absence of a “standard format for recording causes of death”.In view of the massive infrastructure development that is taking place in preparation for the World Cup, The Guardian report has zeroed in on Qatar. While such a spotlight helps generate awareness about the ongoing tragedy in the country concerned, we must bear in mind that avoidable premature deaths of relatively young migrant workers is a pervasive phenomenon in all the Gulf states. The deaths in Qatar have given rise to some important insights.Firstly, the unwillingness of both countries of destination and origin to share information and data on deceased workers is a major challenge. Further, lack of clarity and transparency impedes framing of appropriate policies and actions to address problems. It also works as a major barrier for the families of the deceased migrants to access justice and claim compensation.Secondly, the propensity of receiving states in asserting that most workers die of “natural causes” is unacceptable. There is an urgent need for amending laws for ensuring “autopsies to require forensic investigations into all sudden or unexplained deaths”. It is worthwhile to mention that as early as 2014, in a report, the Qatar government’s own lawyers recommended commissioning an independent study into the deaths of migrant workers from cardiac arrest, and amend the law to “allow for autopsies…in all cases of unexpected or sudden death”. There is also the need for labour receiving countries to pay heed to the call of Human Rights Watch to “pass legislation to require that all death certificates include reference to a medically meaningful cause of death”.

thirdly, heat stroke has been identified as an important cause of death of many migrant workers. The ineffectiveness of the summer working hours ban as highlighted by a ILO commissioned study in October 2019 was acknowledged by the Ministry of Labour and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy of Qatar. The study found that workers working outdoors were “potentially performing their job under significant occupational heat stress conditions for at least four months of the year”. The Ministry of Labour disseminated enhanced guidelines on heat stress aimed at workers and employers earlier, but unfortunately those were neither comprehensive nor obligatory for employers and did not come with any enforcement mechanisms. It is also pertinent that Cardiology Journal in July 2019, based on a study on 1,300 Nepali workers between 2009 and 2017, found “a strong correlation between heat stress and young workers dying of cardiovascular problems in the summer months”. The study was conducted by a group of climatologists and cardiologists.In official records, deaths deemed of “natural causes” include cardiac arrest, heart attack, respiratory failure and “sickness”. Analysts have argued that such terms make it impossible to understand whether they may be related to working conditions such as heat stress. Once categorised as “natural causes”, labour laws in most of these countries, including Qatar, deprive the families of any compensation. As an overwhelming majority of migrant workers are the principal breadwinners of their families, the slackness in identifying actual causes of death not only ruin those families, it fails to bring proper closure to the loved ones of the deceased migrants. Cardiac arrest as a cause of death has been viewed as “highly problematic”. The United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers guidance to doctors that “The mechanism of death (for example cardiac or respiratory arrest) should not be reported as the immediate cause of death as it is a statement not specifically related to the disease process, and it merely attest the fact of death” (emphasis added). The Guardian report has drawn attention to the dark reality of labour migration in the Gulf states. In many instances, contract substitution after arrival, not being placed against jobs as per the contract, non-payment and irregular payment of wages, ill treatment and abuse by employers and supervisors, and lack of access to healthcare and redress mechanism—all inflict immeasurable mental harm on the workers. Also, poor living conditions including crammed settings, inadequate water supply, lack of sanitary toilet facilities and the like hinder migrants’ enjoying quality rest during breaks. All these factors, among other conditions, are likely to contribute to hypertension, respiratory or cardiac arrests or exacerbate existing conditions. More than 28,000 bodies of deceased Bangladeshi migrants were repatriated under the auspices of the Wage Earners’ Welfare Board from 2011 to 2020. A majority of those were from the Gulf states. Stroke, heart attack or accidents were assigned as prime reasons for death of men, while women were alleged to have committed either suicide or died of torture. On average, more than seven families received the bodies of their migrant loved ones each day (54 returns per week).Evidence from the field informs us that there have been cases in which bodies with obvious injury marks were certified to have died from proverbial “natural causes”. So far, such malfeasance of the state authorities of destination countries with the acquiescence of the authorities of countries of origin has allowed the tragedies to persist. There is an urgent need to put a halt to this avoidable misfortune. The process should start with the recognition by state authorities of the reality that young migrants are indeed dying of causes that are preventable. This should be followed up by proper investigations in suspected cases after the bodies of deceased migrants arrive in countries of origin. The origin countries should demand that destination countries ensure that all migrants, male and female, in public or domestic spheres, work and live in decent conditions and are able to secure redress of their grievances. They should also push destination countries to conduct mandatory autopsies in all cases of unexpected and sudden deaths and recompense the families if the latter qualify for it. The origin countries should also rally forces in the Colombo Process, Abu Dhabi Dialogue and the Global Forum on Migration and Development to demand an immediate end to this tragedy in the spirit of the much celebrated Global Compact of Migration.