Today (24 April) marks the ninth anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse which was the deadliest structural failure in modern human history and the worst ever industrial accident to hit the garment industry.
A total of 1,138 people died and at least 2,000 others were maimed in that accident.
Around 56.5% of the Rana Plaza collapse survivors said their physical health condition is getting worse, according to a recent survey conducted by ActionAid Bangladesh.
The victims who reported declining physical health conditions are complaining of waist pain, headache, pain in hand and leg, and back pain as some of the major problems.
In terms of mental health, currently, 48.5% of the surviving Rana Plaza victims are suffering from psychological trauma, while last year 12.5% of the survivors were suffering from this problem.
Observing the day several workers' organisations staged a protest rally in front of Rana Plaza on Saturday (23 April).
They also lit candles on the temporary altar of Rana Plaza in memory of the victims.
The Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation has demanded 24 April be declared as the Garment Workers' Mourning Day.
On 18 July 2016, charges were framed against 41 accused, including Rana Plaza building owner Sohel Rana, in the murder case filed following the tragic incident.
However, High Court (HC) stays, brought on by the accused's criminal appeals challenging indictment orders, have obstructed the trial proceedings in the murder case.
Of the accused, only Sohel Rana is in jail, while 31 are on bail. Three of the accused have died and the rest are absconding.
Many believe the sheer negligence of the building owners to be the reason behind the collapse and could have been prevented by awareness about building safety measures.
Following the disaster, IndustriALL and UNI Global union constructed the legally-binding Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety.
Since its launch in 2013, Accord engineers have carried out over 38,000 inspections in factories covering two million workers. Over 120,000 fire, building and electrical hazards have been fixed.
As per the compliance requirements, a safety committee has been formed in most of the garment factories across the country.
"Fire incidents or structural failures take place in different industrial sectors across the world but the magnitude of the Rana Plaza incident was unprecedented. We have learnt a lot from that accident but we needed to pay a great price for it," Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, former president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the apex trade association of readymade garment factory owners told The Business Standard.
One of the other significant improvements that have taken place is the emergence of green factories. Bangladesh is now home to the highest number of platinum-rated garment factories in the world, which portrays the country's strong footing in green production.
More changes needed for workers' safety
Despite many improvements in the RMG sector, experts concerned with the sector still feel that there is a lot more to be done yet. For example, RMG workers are not happy with existing labour rights in the country.
They alleged that they find it hard to form trade unions in the garment factories as a result they do not have bargaining power.
"In 2018, the government reduced the minimum workers' requirement for union registration from 30% to 20%. However, it is tough to organise such a number of workers as a single factor employs about 10 thousand workers," Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation, recently told The Business Standard.
Aside from the labour rights, the garment factory workers have long been alleging that they are deprived of fair wages. The Minimum Wage Board does not work for the desired salary increase for the garment sector workers.
"We are not satisfied with the latest minimum wage increase in 2018. We demanded at least Tk16,000, but we got Tk8,000," added Amin, who is also a co-chair of the RMG Sustainable Council.
The next wage board is scheduled to be formed in 2023. However, garment worker leaders said that they will request the government to announce the minimum wage one year earlier because of special reasons.
"The prices of essentials have skyrocketed in the midst of the Covid-19," said Amin.
"In the past few years, we have improved ourselves as per the compliance requirements but the buyers haven't increased the price. We are not getting value for our product. China works 10% higher value than that of us," observed former Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) president Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin.