SAVAR, Bangladesh: Thousands of workers paraded through central Dhaka on May Day to demand safety at work and the death penalty for the owner of a garment factory building that collapsed last week in the country’s worst industrial disaster, killing at least 395 people and injuring 2,500.
A raucous procession of workers on foot, pickup trucks and motorcycles wound its way through central Dhaka on Wednesday. They waved the national flag and banners, beat drums and chanted “direct action!” and “death penalty!”
From a loudspeaker on the back of a truck, a participant spoke for the group: “My brother has died. My sister has died. Their blood will not be valueless.”
May Day protests, customarily an opportunity for workers in this impoverished South Asian nation to vent their grievances, have taken on a poignant significance this year following the April 24 disaster.
Five garment factories were housed in the illegally constructed, eight-story Rana Plaza that collapsed in this Dhaka suburb. Five months after a fire killed 112 people at another clothing factory, the collapse again exposed safety problems in Bangladesh’s garment industry, which is worth $20 billion annually and supplies retailers around the world.
The owner of the building, Mohammed Sohel Rana, is being questioned by police while under arrest. He is expected to be charged with negligence, illegal construction and forcing workers to join work, which is punishable by a maximum of seven years in jail. Authorities have not said if more serious crimes will be added.
Workers protesting Wednesday demanded capital punishment for the 38-year-old Rana, a small-time political operative with the ruling Awami League party.
“I want the death penalty for the owner of the building. We want regular salaries, raises and absolutely we want better safety in our factories,” said Mongidul Islam Rana, 18, who works in a garment factory that was not located in Rana Plaza.
The Bangladesh High Court has ordered the government to confiscate Rana’s property and to freeze the assets of the owners of the factories in Rana Plaza so the money can be used to pay the salaries of their workers.