Bangladesh workers protest; families of dead plead

Hundreds of garment workers protested on Friday outside a Bangladeshi factory where 112 people were killed by a fire.

Dhaka: Hundreds of garment workers protested on Friday outside a Bangladeshi factory where 112 people were killed by a fire, demanding compensation for their lost salaries, while relatives of those who did not survive gathered nearby, hoping against hope to find their remains.

Sonia Afrin travelled 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 November 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.

Nearby, about 300 workers chanted "Want Justice" and "Want Compensation" in front of the closed Tazreen Fashions Ltd. Factory in a Dhaka suburb. They have been out of work since the fire in this impoverished South Asian country, which relies hugely on its USD 20-billion-a-year garment industry.

"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 USD 56 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."

The factory, guarded by police today, has been closed since the fire.
It was making clothes for Wal-Mart, Sears, Disney and other major global retailers, though the companies said their suppliers ordered clothing from the factory without their knowledge.

Fire officials say the factory had no emergency exits, and police have arrested three factory officials suspected of locking in the workers during the blaze.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said it would pay USD 1,300 in initial compensation to the families of the dead and would then give them their deceased relative`s monthly salary for at least 10 years.


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