About 80 people gathered at the Eight Hour Day monument opposite Melbourne Trades Hall on April 24 to commemorate the second anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh. In the collapse, 1139 garment workers are known to have died, with others still missing.
A recorded message from a survivor told of the harsh working conditions in Rana Plaza, including 16-hour days and verbal and physical abuse of workers by management. She told how, on the day of the collapse, the workers did not want to enter the building, in which cracks had appeared, but were told that they would lose their jobs if they did not do so.
National secretary of the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia Michele O'Neil said that the deaths were "industrial murder".
— Michele O'Neil (@MicheleONeilTCF) April 24, 2015
She said that the global clothing companies that have their garments made in unsafe factories such as Rana Plaza are responsible for such deaths. She said that global brands "mask exploitation behind glamour".
She highlighted the Just Group owned by Solomon Lew, one of Australia's richest men. The company, owner of clothing labels such as Just Jeans, has refused to sign the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord, an agreement between global clothing companies, international unions and NGOs which is aimed at making suppliers' factories safe. The accord has been signed by 200 global brands, after a lot of pressure from an international campaign.
Another company which has refused to sign the accord is Best and Less, which is South African owned but has 200 stores in Australia.
O'Neil also spoke of the campaign for compensation for survivors of the collapse and the families of those who died. Benetton and Mango have paid only token amounts into the compensation fund. There is a global campaign to force the companies to pay increased compensation.
O'Neil said the real answer for creating a safe garment industry is for workers to be organised in unions. If the Rana Plaza workers had a strong union, they would have felt confident to refuse to enter the unsafe building.
O'Neil led the gathering in chants of "Mourn the dead, fight for the living", "Shame Just Group, Shame Best and Less", and "Pay up Benetton, pay up Mango". Wreaths were laid on the monument.