The Financial Express – Ship-breakers left out of insurance cover

3 November 2014 – Workers in the ship-breaking industry are still left out of group-insurance coverage, despite the fact that some fatal accidents have occurred in recent times.

Absence of proper government inspections is mainly attributed to leaving thousands of people working at the ship-breaking yards out of risk coverage.

Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association (BSBA) data show presently more than 179 companies are directly doing business with more than 0.1 million people engaged in work.

Sector-insiders said there is still no clear-cut policy for ship-breaking industry.

As such, the risks have been on the increase for the workers as more hazardous ship-breaking yards have, meanwhile, had a mushroom growth along the Chittagong coastal belt.

According to the Bangladesh Labour Law amended into Bangladesh Labour Act 2013, group insurance of the workers mandatory for companies with minimum 100 workers.

Under the group insurance policy, each of the workers and his or her nominee in the apparel sector is entitled to receive Tk 0.1 million for death and Tk 0.125 million for any disability while at work.

The ship-breaking or ship-demolition industry is playing a vital role in the country’s economic development but the sector is yet to implement workers’ group insurance, said Mohammad Ali Shahin, senior programme manager of Young Power in Social Action (YPSA), an organisation for social development.

“I have been working as research officer on ship-breaking industry for 12 years and several times observed accidents. But I don’t find any insurance facility for the workers” he told the FE.

He noted that group insurance coverage is mandatory in the ship-breaking industry as it is a right of the workers but the owners of the sector were violating that right.

According to the YPSA counts, 500 of the ship-breaking workers at more than 75 breaking yards have died or been maimed over the last decade.

And, on average, one worker dies in the yards a week while every day a worker is injured.

Most of the victims are from the poorest communities in the country, the development researcher stated.

The YPSA survey report also show that in the last 10 months of the current calendar year 12 people have died in accidents and more than 150 were injured.

Chittagong ship breaking yard is rated world’s second-largest. The ship breaking takes place in the Fauzdarhat area along 18 kilometres north-west of the port city.

The government has declared ship-breaking as an industry under the ministry of industries as, for domestic steel requirements, the country is dependent on ship breaking.

Mojibur Rahman Bhuiyan, vice-chairman of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), said: “Several times we have met with leaders of the ship- breakers’ association for confirmation of insurance facility to workers, but to no effect yet.”

Mr Bhuiyan observed that the owners of the ship-breaking or ship-demolition industrial units are very powerful. “As a result, they are breaking the labour law with impunity.”

Hefzatur Rahman, President of Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association (BSBA), said average 300-400 workers have been working under a ship- breaking company but a large number of them are out of insurance coverage.

He said many of the workers are getting insurance benefit and the owners are trying to bring all the employees under insurance facility.

Syed Ahmed, Inspector-General of the Department of Inspections for Factories and Establishments (DIFE), said country’s industrial sector is expanding very fast and they faced difficulty in ensuring inspections everywhere with limited manpower.

“We have only one-third of inspectors against our requirement for inspections,” he said.

The IG of DIFE said due to shortage of manpower they cannot visit any ship yard to check the working environment. As result, the owners of the industries may be breaking the labour law.