Workers demonstrated a week ago for overtime pay

Blaze at Hashem Food Limited building at Narayanganj’s RupganjShuvra Kanti Das

At least 250 workers would work in the six-storey factory building of Hashem Foods Limited that was engulfed by a devastating fire killing 52 people on Thursday.

The workers did not get their wages for June. Given the current situation the surviving workers are worried as to when will they get their dues.

These correspondents talked to 20 workers and different level officials that most of those workers get a monthly wage of Tk 5000 to Tk 7000. Almost all of them work overtime for extra money. They staged a demonstration and blocked the roads demanding overtime pay of four months on 1 July.

The factory’s officials did not deny this.

Assistant manager (accounts) of Hashem Foods Ltd, Nahid Murad, told Prothom Alo that the arrears were recently paid in the face of demonstrations by the workers.

As many as 2500 workers work in seven factory buildings of Hashem Foods that produce juice, chocolates, biscuits, vermicelli and various snacks. A fire broke out at the eastern wing of the six-storey building at around 5:30pm on Thursday. It took 19 hours to douse the flames.

Worker Abdur Rab, who survived the fire, said he was rescued from the third floor of the building and was admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

He was discharged from the hospital on Saturday night and went to his hometown, Dinajpur.

Abdur Rab told Prothom Alo over phone that he has still been suffering from breathing problems.

He further said he is worried whether he would get his due wages and bonus as officials of the factory have not contacted him as yet.

There is also uncertainty among the workers about jobs. They think it may take a long time to reopen this factory.

Muktar Hossain, assistant engineer (mechanical) of the factory, told Prothom Alo on Sunday, "It is 11 July today, we have not received our salary yet. The owner is in jail. We have no clue when the factory will reopen.”

Nahid Murad of Hashem Foods said the authorities have been trying to pay the wages and bonus to the employees.

Families and relatives of the victims gathered at the factory gate with the photos of their loved ones and demanded maximum punishment of those responsible for the fire.

Awami League’s organising secretary Mirza Azam visited the scene with a delegation. He said it an investigation is being carried out on who recruited the child labourers and how.

“Various government organisations are responsible for the approval of such factories. We have been looking whether there is any flaw from that end," Mirza Azam added.

Zafrullah Chowdhury, the founder of the Gonoshasthaya Kendra, while visiting the factory, said such incidents would not stop without proper regulations. He also called the incident a 'planned murder'.

He was accompanied by Ganosamhati Andolon chief coordinator Zonayed Saki, freedom fighter Naeem Jahangir, Muktijoddha Dal president Ishtiaq Aziz Ulfat and Rashtro Chinta's Hasnat Qayyum.

The factory authorities took nothing into consideration

The two government agencies issued notices to the factory authorities a few months ago after the lack of fire-fighting equipment and recruitment of child labour had come to light. The fire service visited the factory seven months ago. Besides, the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) issued a show cause notice to Hashem Foods seeking explanation about hiring child workers in violation of the law.

Salauddin Ahmed, assistant director (operations) of the Dhaka division of the fire service, and Tanharul Islam, deputy assistant director of the Narayanganj office, told Prothom Alo that the factory authorities did not take the notice into their cognizance.

DIFE officials visited the factory on 8 June. They came to know about the child workers while inquiring whether the health rules were being followed.

Nessar Ahmed, an inspector at the DIFE, said the factory authorities did not take the instructions into cognizance to stop child labour. They did not even respond to the notice sent by the government agency, he added.

AB Siddique, president of the Narayanganj Nagarik Committee, said apart from the negligence of the factory authorities, the agencies that were to monitor these irregularities could stop this mishap if handled with proper action.

So many people would not have died, he added.

Three agencies launch investigations

The government agencies, Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence, Narayanganj district administration and DIFE have launched investigations into the incident. The investigating team of the fire service visited the spot on Sunday morning and recorded statements of 12 workers as witnesses.

Member secretary of the investigation team and deputy director of fire service, Nur Hassan Ahmed, told Prothom Alo that they were yet to ascertain what caused the fire.

Interrogations begin

A court has granted a four-day remand for each of the eight accused including Sajeeb Group chairman Abul Hashem and chief executive officer Shahenshah Azad on Saturday.

Rupganj police station’s inspector Humayun Kabir Mollah sought remand for the arrested persons on Saturday afternoon.

Police arrested eight persons including Sajeeb Group chairman Abul Hashem, CEO Shahenshah Azad, Hasib Bin Hasem, Tarek Ibrahim, Taosib Ibrahim, Tanzim Ibrahim, deputy general manager Mamunur Rashid, civil engineer and administrative officer Md Alauddin.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print and online editions, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat.