Bangladesh Garment Disaster Death Toll Reaches 761

By Julhas Alam 8 May 2013

DHAKA, Bangladesh — The death toll from a collapsed building housing five garment factories rose to 761 on Wednesday as authorities started disbursing salary and other benefits to the survivors in the country’s deadliest industrial disaster.

According to a control room at the scene, rescue workers recovered more bodies out of the wreckage of the eight-story Rana Plaza that was packed with morning-shift workers when it collapsed on April 24 outside the nation’s capital.

There is no clear indication on how many bodies still remain trapped in the debris as the exact number of people inside the collapsed building at the time of the collapse was unknown. More than 2,500 people were rescued alive.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, or BGMEA, had earlier said 3122 workers were employed in the factories, but it was not clear actually how many were there when it collapsed.

The disaster is the worst ever in the garment sector, far surpassing a fire that killed about 260 people in Pakistan and another in Bangladesh that killed 112 last year, as well as the 1911 garment disaster in New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist factory that killed 146 workers.

After hundreds of garment factory workers protested for compensation on Tuesday morning, authorities started disbursing salary and other benefits.

Maj-Gen Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy, a top military official in the area, said some 400 workers gathered on Tuesday night to get dues and benefits.

Officials helped BGMEA disburse the amount.

Rafiqul Islam, an official of the industry association, said it has yet to get the full list of the workers but the disbursement would continue in phases.

Islam said they have a plan to sit with workers’ representatives later Wednesday to discuss how it could reach out to the real victims for proper disbursement of compensation and other financial aid.

The workers, many who made little more than the national minimum wage of about $38 per month, are demanding at least four months in salary. The workers had set Tuesday as the deadline for the payment of wages and other benefits.

Local government administrator Yousuf Harun had said no salary remained unpaid except for the month of April and there was an agreement for the workers to receive an additional three months of pay. After a team from the BGMEA arrived at the protest and pledged to make the payment later Tuesday, the workers left the highway, Harun said.

The BGMEA had said on Monday that it was preparing a “complete list” of workers employed in the Rana Plaza factories and the process would take a few more days.

Bangladesh earns nearly US $20 billion a year from exports of the garment products, mainly to the United States and Europe.

The is no specific deadline to complete the recovery operation at the building site as authorities said it would continue until all bodies and debris are removed.

Officials say the building’s owner illegally added three floors and allowed the garment factories to install heavy machines and generators, even though it was designed as a market and an office building.