By Michelle Hough, Caritas Internationalis communications officer
Many workers around the world are having a welcomed day off tomorrow to mark “International Workers Day”. But in Bangladesh rescuers will continue to sift through the rubble of the clothing factory which collapsed in Savar last week.
Collapsed buildings for Caritas usually means earthquakes, such as the ones in Haiti and Japan. They are disasters which are terrible and unforeseen. The disaster in Savar was foretold by a big crack in the building. Despite an initial evacuation, people were forced to go back to work. Almost 400 people were crushed in the building collapse, many were injured and others are still missing.
Caritas Bangladesh has been giving out thousands of bottles of water and packets of saline to keep people hydrated, as well as nutritional biscuits. They are continuing in relief work in the area.
A message from colleagues at Caritas Bangladesh reads, “In solidarity with the local Church and with our colleagues of Caritas Bangladesh, we mourn for the dead and share the sorrow of their relatives for a tragedy that shouldn’t have happened. We pray for the lives of the injured and remain close to our friends in Bangladesh who continue to assist them and their families as best as they can.”
As the rubble is slowly cleared, families face coming to terms with their losses. Many of the people killed were women. Many of them had children who will grow up without a mother.
Those of us in richer countries also have to face something: the fact that those killed were producing cheap clothes for our shops.
This isn’t the first time that poorly paid workers have died in making our clothes. In November last year over 100 workers were burned alive in a factory in Bangladesh with no fire exits. In 2010, 27 people died and more than 100 were injured in a fire in a factory that made clothes for another Western retailer.
As we enjoy our May Day holiday tomorrow, we can be thankful for the workers’ rights of limited working hours, good pay and safe workplaces which we’ve gained over the years.
But at the same time, don’t forget to give a thought and a prayer for those lost in the Bangladesh disaster, for those who are injured and for those left behind.
In a private mass on 1st May Pope Francis expressed his shock at the low wages of those who worked in the Bangladeshi factory. At his weekly audience later that day he used the feast of St Joseph the Worker to condemn slave labour.