A massive fire that erupted in the early morning of April 4 in Bangabazar, a popular clothing market in Dhaka, Bangladesh, burnt thousands of small stores and micro-businesses into ashes within hours.
An estimated six thousand stores housed in the complex and the adjoining Bongo Market, Gulistan Market, Mahanagar Shopping Complex, Adarsha Market and Annex Tower were affected.
No casualties were reported, but 18 people were injured while fighting the blaze.
The incident immediately attracted public attention and sympathy as it occurred in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan.
Local media reported that relatively swift actions were taken to help the affected victims, mostly small-scale traders and operators. However, most of the attention appears to remain on the shop owners, while the plight of 15,000 workers and employees of the markets was barely mentioned.
The National Shop Employees Federation (NSEF), which advocates for the interests of shop workers, mobilized a human solidarity chain in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka on Friday, April 7, 2023, to urge the government and employers to pay the affected workers their due salaries and the customary Eid bonus.
At the event, Mr Amirul Haque Amin, General Secretary of the NSEF, said,
“About 15,000 employees who work in these stores depend on the sales period before the Eid festival to get their monthly salaries and Festival bonuses. But all of them have now lost their jobs due to the fire. I appeal to the government and the employers to please remember the hard work and sacrifices of the workers and ensure they can get their pay and bonus. I also appeal to all the associations and government to learn from this disaster and ensure safe workplaces for shopkeepers in the country”.
The NSEF had issued a public appeal just before Ramadan commenced for shop employers and associations employing 6 million shop workers across the country to ensure they pay these workers the monthly salaries and Eid bonuses.
Most shop workers in Bangladesh work under precarious conditions and insecure jobs as they are mostly daily waged and not formally registered as an employee of the shops.
UNI Asia & Pacific Regional Secretary Rajendra Acharya expressed his condolences and sympathies with all the affected fire victims, saying, “We support the efforts of the NSEF, and we sincerely hope their concrete actions can help secure for the workers a dignified outcome in time for Eid.”
The NSEF is affiliated with UNI Global Union in the Commerce sector. It is appealing for international solidarity to provide emergency aid for the affected 15,000 workers and employees of the Bangabazar market fire.
Interested unions may contact Brother Amirul Haque Amin, General Secretary, National Shop Employees Federation, at firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.