‘No matter what you are, if you are not a construction worker, you will be killed’: Bangladesh’s Construction Industry’s ‘Death Machine’
For a country where a quarter of its jobs depend on construction, Bangladesh’s construction industry is struggling to maintain its safety and security amid a deadly crackdown on its workers.
The country’s construction workers have been killed in a spate of incidents that began in July when security forces used tear gas and stun grenades on protesters in Dhaka.
The police have also fired rubber bullets at workers attempting to flee the country, leaving many workers injured.
The unrest has also left many workers unable to return to work in the capital, Dhaka, due to the country’s strict security regulations, according to the World Bank.
“No matter who you are or what you do, if there is a problem, you cannot escape it,” said Khanda Taha, a construction contractor.
“You can’t go out and play and walk and play.
You are stuck in your house.”
Taha was on his way home from work when security force opened fire.
“I heard tear gas.
I was scared,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Then they started shooting.
I didn’t know what to do.
Then they started firing rubber bullets.
It was so horrible. “
My hands and feet were covered in blood.
It was so horrible.
I couldn’t see my family and I couldn´t cry.”
On Tuesday, a woman who worked as a cleaner for the construction company Bhatta Hai construction company was shot dead by security forces after she tried to stop them from using tear gas to disperse a crowd.
According to the police, the woman was shot after she refused to stop the crowd from advancing towards her home, which was surrounded by security force.
The protesters are demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, who has presided over the country´s economic growth since becoming prime minister in 2013.
“Sheikh Hasina has been an absolute disaster for the country,” Taha said.
“He is the most corrupt person I know.”
As the unrest has escalated, some people have taken to using the hashtag #BangladeshConstructionWorkers, which has gained popularity in Bangladesh.
“They are making people who have worked in the construction industry suffer,” Taka said.
The Bangladesh Construction Workers’ Association (BCWSA), an umbrella organisation of construction workers’ organisations, said it is aware of the death of Taha.
The organisation also has a number of activists who are actively organising strikes to protest the government´s decision to increase the minimum wage to 50,000 Bangladeshi rupees ($1,300).
“We are not protesting against the government.
We are protesting against a system that is not serving the people, and a system which is not protecting the environment,” said BWCSA general secretary S.B. Ahmed.
“We demand that the government appoint a committee to review the situation and take measures to protect workers’ rights.”
The government is yet to confirm Taha’s death.
But Taha is one of several workers to be killed in recent days.
In the early hours of Saturday, a man was shot and killed by security guards in Burdwan district, which is home to many construction sites.
In another incident, a worker was shot by security officers on Tuesday, leaving him with a bullet wound to the head.
A day earlier, a police officer was shot while walking to work.
In all, 10 workers have died since July.
The majority of those killed have been security forces, according the BWCSCA.
In September, more than 100 people were injured in clashes between security forces and protesters.
On Tuesday evening, the protests intensified as the protests turned violent.
Hundreds of people attacked police stations, forcing them to fire tear gas at the crowds.
“The people are not giving up and are continuing to escalate the protests,” said a BWCSA member.
“People are getting ready to take to the streets, but the police are not letting them do that.”
As of Friday, more 200 workers had been killed and hundreds injured, according a BHCSA spokesperson.
“These protests are very ugly, and have resulted in many deaths,” said Nadeem Khan, a BHTCA representative.
“Many people are going through the same pain and suffering as we are.”
The protests have also triggered a crackdown on the construction sector.
In early September, the government announced the establishment of a national safety commission to review and investigate allegations of violations of safety regulations, and to conduct inspections of construction sites across the country.
The commission has yet to be set up, but it is expected to include representatives of the government, construction companies, and unions.
In April, the Bangladesh Development Authority (BDA) announced it would set up a national emergency committee to oversee safety in construction, and has vowed to investigate the safety of construction equipment and staff.