Bangladeshi factory workers protest salaries lost after fire

Hundreds of garment workers protested today outside a Bangladeshi factory where 112 people were killed by a fire, demanding compensation for their lost salaries.

300 garment workers demand compensation, reopening of fire-ravaged factory

Bangladeshi garment workers shout slogans during a protest to mourn the death of the victims of a fire in a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Friday. Workers are demanding compensation for lost salaries. (Pavel Rahman/Associated Press)

Hundreds of garment workers protested today outside a Bangladeshi factory where 112 people were killed by a fire, demanding compensation for their lost salaries.

Sonia Afrin traveled hundreds of kilometres to wail in grief outside the factory gates, begging for word of her brother, Kabir Parvez. Dozens of bodies, too badly burned to be identified, were buried soon after the Nov. 24 fire.

"Won't I be able to see my brother's face again? Why don't you say anything?" she cried. "Why, oh Allah? Why are you punishing us this way?" Some onlookers tried to console her.

About 300 workers chanted "Want Justice" and "Want Compensation" in front of the closed Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory in a Dhaka suburb. The $20-billion-a-year garment business represents 80 per cent of Bangladesh's exports. The factory was making clothes for Wal-Mart, Sears, Disney and other major global retailers, though the companies said they did not know their clothes were being made there.

The factory, which was guarded by police, has been closed since the fatal fire last weekend.

Police have arrested three factory officials suspected of locking in the workers during the fire. Fire officials said the factory had no emergency exits, and workers said yarn and clothes blocked part of a stairway.

But in a sign of how important such jobs are in this impoverished country, the protesters Friday said they wanted the facility to reopen so they could get back to work.

"We want the owner to reopen the factory as soon as possible or pay us a few months of salary because we have nowhere else to go right at this moment," said Hasan, a worker who escaped the fire and uses only one name.

Many of the workers earned about $55 Cdn each month at the plant, plus overtime. It is money Dipa Akter, who injured her leg escaping the fire, cannot afford to lose.

"I need to recover soon. I need money immediately. We want at least four months of salary to just get by now and by this time, we will look for jobs in other factories," said the 19-year-old, who has worked at the factory for three years. "Otherwise, I have to go back to my village, where I have nothing to do."

10 years salary as compensation

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said it would pay $1,220 Cdn in initial compensation to each victim's family, and would then give them their deceased relative's monthly salary for at least 10 years.

Most of the workers come from the north, Bangladesh's poorest region, so many relatives of the dead or missing have had to travel far to try to learn their fate.

Shirin, who uses one name, and her husband traveled overnight from a northern district in hopes of getting information about Amena, their only daughter and a mother of three. She sent them money every month.

"My daughter told me she will buy me a new sari...she asked me to send her some pies," Shirin said. "But where is she now. Where is she?"