Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Safety & working conditions in Bangladesh under the yoke of IMF

The many fires & building collapses in the garment sweatshop industry of Bangladesh put the spotlight on safety & working conditions in every industry. Bangladesh has labor laws protecting workers & requiring compensation for criminal misconduct by employers--they just don’t bother to enforce them since it isn’t profitable.

The stone crushing industry in the Lalmonirhat area (in the north of Bangladesh) produces lime powder for various industrial purposes, including as poultry feed (which should give you pause about eating poultry). There are over 30 stone-grinding factories in the area where mostly young men work dawn to dusk for US $2.50 to $3.00 a day.

Silicosis is an incurable lung disease ubiquitous to the industry & caused by inhalation of silica dust from quartz in rocks, sand, & similar substances. Despite the fact that it is the oldest known occupational lung disease with medical treatises on it going back centuries, regardless that respiratory problems cannot be completely eliminated but only ameliorated through use of masks & propellant fans, workers are provided no safety education & no protective gear in the industry.

It’s no accident these young men’s lives are ground up as relentlessly as those grinding machines work on stone. It’s unlikely stone-grinding workers don’t know the deadly nature of their occupation--but they don’t have a choice since this is the only work available year round. Agricultural work is not just seasonal but, like all major industrial employment in Bangladesh, governed in accord with IMF & World Bank structural plundering programs.

The symptoms of silicosis can develop within months of intense exposure & include shortness of breath, bloodshot eyes, coughing (including coughing up blood), fever, bluish skin, inflammation, scarring, & fluid in the lungs, tiredness & mental confusion, chest pain, vulnerability to tuberculosis, complete respiratory failure, continued weight loss.

There is no cure for silicosis but there are therapies to relieve some of the misery including bronchodilators, steam inhalers, mechanical ventilators, oxygen & physical therapy. Heart-lung transplants are the only hope for some patients. Of course, under IMF & World Bank economic policy, public health care barely exists in Bangladesh.

This is a photo of 40-year-old Montu Mia, a former stone-grinding worker in the Lalmonirhat district; he suffers from silicosis & is no longer able to work. His extreme thinness is a chief symptom of the disease, though not his only sypmtom. Under Section 150 of the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006, workers are entitled to compensation for diseases caused by employment. Our brother awaits his due under laws which remain unenforced by the Bangladeshi government & impeded by the IMF. The only hope for change is the new labor militancy erupting throughout Bangladesh. Our fullest solidarity with the working people of Bangladesh.

(Photo by Andrew Biraj/Reuters)

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