Bangladesh factory victims get money ahead of anniversary

In this photograph taken on April 25, 2013, Bangladeshi volunteers and rescue workers gather at the scene after the Rana Plaza complex collapsed in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka.

DHAKA - A fund created to compensate victims of Bangladesh's worst industrial disaster made its first payments Tuesday as the country prepared to mark the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse.

The payments were made as a Geneva-based international labour group blasted Western retailers for their "woefully inadequate" contributions to the fund set up by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

An injured survivor and the mother of a deceased worker were each given around 50,000 taka (S$800) at a ceremony.

"I'm happy. I want to use the money to set up a shop as I can't work in a garment factory any longer," Jesmin Akhter, 22, an unemployed survivor, told AFP after getting the cheque.

Akhter suffered backbone and leg injuries in the disaster.

Bangladesh's deputy labour minister Mujibul Haque Chunnu and the ILO deputy director general, Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, handed out the cheques at the ceremony.

The fund is paying around 3,000 people - survivors or families of the dead - 50,000 taka each as an advance against their claims. Bangladesh labour secretary Mikail Shipar said the maximum compensation is expected to total three million taka ($38,000).

The nine-storey factory complex, where dozens of Western retailers were making clothing, collapsed on April 24 last year, killing 1,138 people and injuring more than 2,000.

British fashion clothing retailer Primark last month paid $640 to 580 people, who were survivors or relatives of victims at one of the five Rana Plaza factories.

The tragedy highlighted appalling safety conditions in Bangladesh's $22-billion garment industry, the world's second largest after China.

Primark was one of more than two dozen Western retailers which had clothing made at Rana Plaza.

So far retailers have pledged $15 million to the proposed $40-million ILO-managed trust fund.

In a statement, global labour group IndustriALL slammed global retailers for not putting enough money into the fund.

"They share a collective responsibility for this profoundly unsustainable production model and its hazards," said its general secretary, Jyrki Raina.

"Brand contributions to the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund remain woefully inadequate." Mojtaba Kazazi, head of the Rana Plaza Claims Administration, said Tuesday's disbursements were an "advance payment" and exact entitlements are still to be calculated.

For the survivors, total compensation is being assessed on the basis of injuries suffered, he told AFP.

In the case of those who died, payments are being calculated using such criteria as their age, wage-earning potential and number of dependants.

Those who were not hurt in the disaster and the families of missing workers will also get some money.

Unions and injured workers have staged almost daily demonstrations at the rubble-strewn ruins since the tragedy, demanding the compensation process be speeded up.

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