Shipbreaking Workers in Bangladesh Speak Out

September, 30 2009 Share

The National Labor Committee is releasing transcripts of eight of the interviews we did with shipbreaking workers in Bangladesh between February and September 2009.  In their own words, the workers describe the deadly September 5 fire at the Kabir shipbreaking yard that needlessly killed two workers and left three others severely burned.  Workers from the "Lucky" shipyard describe how an 18-year-old co-worker was crushed to death on April 19 when a huge piece of metal from the ship fell on him.  Workers describe the complete and criminal indifference of management, which refuses to implement even the most rudimentary safety precautions that could save lives.  The shipbreaking workers have no rights and are trapped in misery.



Transcript #1:

Interview with Kabir Workers speaking about the deadly September 5 fire

September 6, 2009

00:01 Interviewer: What's your name brother? 

00:02 Worker: My name is Y--.

00:04 Interviewer: What do you do?

00:05 Y.: I work at Kabir Shipyard.

00:09 Interviewer: Why did you come to the medical center today?

00:10 Y.: To see a patient.

00:12 Interviewer: Which patient?  A patient who was burned?

00:13 Y.: Yes.

00:15 Interviewer: Who is this burned patient?

00:17 Y.: Mr. Jahangir, my relative. We worked together.

00:23 Interviewer: What's his condition now?

00:24 Y.: Now he is getting better. But his face was burned so badly, it was difficult to recognize him.  His head was swollen, his face was disfigured

00:36 Interviewer: How do you feel now after seeing him?

00:38 Y.: I feel very bad, we worked together.  If he could have got out just a minute earlier, he could have escaped these horrible burns. Now, a brother cannot recognize his brother.

00:52 Interviewer: You could not identify him, he is so very badly burned?

00:54 Y.: Yes.

00:56 Interviewer: Was he inside a tank?

00:57 Y.: Yes, he was in the tank.

00:58 Interviewer: Were you also working in the same tank?

00:59 Y.: No, I just left that tank and entered to another tank. After getting out from the previous tank, I took only a minute to enter the other tank; in the meantime the fire broke out. I don't know how and from where the fire came.

1:15 Interviewer: I heard that the cutter men were cutting with their blowtorches and below the fitter men were busy unbolting and taking apart the pipes and oil tanks. 

1:23 Y.: Yes, I heard that.

1:28 Interviewer: A spark from the flame fell down, where there was fuel and gas.

1:31 Y.: It was not oil, it was a kind of octane that spreads very fast. The fire broke out from such fuel

1:48 Interviewer:  At what time did the accident occur?

1:50 Y.: At around 9:00 am to 9:30 am.

1:54 Interviewer: Were you together there?

1:56 Y.: We were 30 workers in total and were divided into two groups.

2:09 Worker (white shirt): 15 workers kept on one side and another 15 were for the other side. Five workers were assigned for a tank on one side. There is a stairway from that tank where we can go to other tank, which takes some time. When the fire occurred, they fell back into the tank. They wanted to get to the other tank using the ladder, but the fire blocked this path and they could not get out.

Then they tried to go out through the top part of the ship. In the meantime, the huge flames hit them.  Their hands, legs everything were burned up, it was not possible to recognize them. When these workers were going down, we, the 15 workers were asking is there any worker on the top of us. They said that yes. But we could not see anybody due to fire and gas & smoke. There was another ship beside ours. Someone said, there is an accident, come hurry. We thought that the accident happened in that ship. But, it was out of our imagination that the workers of our ship, our brother are burned so horrendously, we could not think about it. That's why we always say to the In-charge to stop the work of the cutters when we work down below. There are many combustible sources, like gas, oil, fuel.  It's very risky work at these bottom chambers.  We told the foreman this several times, but he refused to listen and told us to get back to work exactly where he placed us.

4:25 Y.: Some days before, around 10-15 days, a fire broke out on the same ship. We were all on top. When the cutter was cutting from the upper side, we were ordered to work at the bottom. The fire broke out at the place where we used to work. Suddenly, the fire spread all over.  We were afraid and raced out from that place.

4:53 Interviewer: Hey brother, you said your In-charge told the cutters to cut from the top part of a ship and the fitters should work down below. You advised him not to do it in that manner but he did not listen to you?

5:07 Worker (white shirt): No, he did not listen to us.

5:08 Interviewer: After this accident, wasn't there any movement or strike by the workers because of what happened?

5:12 Worker (white shirt): No, no, there was nothing happened like this.

5:17 Interviewer: Didn't workers stop their work?

5:19 Y.: Now the work is going on. The duty was stopped only that day when the accident occurred.

5:27 Interviewer: Don't you think that the accident occurred due to the mistake of the In-charge?

5:30 Worker (white shirt): Yes, he is the person that is fully responsible.

5:34 Y.: Even, where the fire was raging, he ordered us to stay working there. He went there himself and ordered us to work on coil-pipes.

5:42 Worker (white shirt): We were taken down to the bottom of the ship, for that reason the workers died. One died, and the others faces have been disfigured. If Allah considers them, these workers can get a new life. Otherwise, it is very difficult to survive. The medical treatments being provided are not satisfactory. The suffering of these workers cannot be explained. The condition of their faces, chests, hands and legs is terrifying.

6:13 Y.:  Even if they live, it will be impossible for them to go out in public because people will be afraid when they see their faces.

6:19 Interviewer: Do you think that Jahangir Bhai, Asheque Bhai, and Khokon Bhai will be able to return to normal life and will be able to lead life like normal men?

6:27 Worker (white shirt): The doctors are saying"we are assuming " we want them to live.

6:37 Y.: But, it won't be possible for them to be normal like before. The medical treatment should be provided in such a way that the workers can get their lives back as before. We are requesting doctors to do such and such things. They don't have any good intention.

6:50 Interviewer: Why don't they give the proper treatment?

6:51 Y.: Why don't they work, we don't know.

6:52 Interviewer: Is it for shortage of money?

6:54 Y.: There is no shortage of money. The company will give one million taka if needed.

6:03 Interviewer: Why do you think the doctors are not helpful? Do you think they should be shifted to a better medical hospital for better treatment?

7:11 Workers: Yes, the treatment here is not provided properly. They should be taken to a better private hospital.

7:17 Interviewer: Whose condition is the most vulnerable?

7:19 Worker (white shirt): The situations of all the workers are vulnerable and almost similar.

7:30 Interviewer: The worker Hossain died, what happened the last time you were with him before his death?

7:36 Y.:  Hossain could not see at the end.  I was there and I saw him. Hossain scolded "Stupid, leave me". He wanted to drink.  He was unable to breathe through his nose. Then I said to the doctor he cannot breathe, do something for him. The doctor said that he won't live. I took him in my arms.  He was """.    And the third time, he died. """""""his water was all over my body.

8:22 Interviewer: Were you in the medical when he died?

Yes, I was there.


Transcript #2:

Interview with workers who witnessed the deadly September 5 fire at Kabir shipbreaking yard

September 6, 2009

00:01 Interviewer: What's your name?

00:03 Worker: My name is M S..

00:04 Interviewer: Where is your home?

00:05 S.: I come from Bogra.

00:06 Interviewer: What do you do?

00:07 S.: I work at a shipyard. At Kabir Shipyard.

00:12 Interviewer: For how long you are working there?

00:13 S.: I have been working for this shipyard for the last nine years.

00:16 Interviewer: Nine years?

00:17 S.: Yes.

00:19 Interviewer: Do you know about the accident that happened very recently?

00:22 S.: Yes, I know.

00:26 Interviewer: Where were you that time?

00:28 S.: I was working. The fire started from a [blowtorch] spark from our cutting at the top.

00:33 Interviewer: Could you please explain how did it happen?

00:35 S.:  I was cutting an iron plate on the upper level of the ship using my blowtorch.  The fitters were below at the bottom of the ship.  The fire started slowly, but within seconds flames spread over the whole area.  Then I threw down my torch.  I came out at once; some of our helpers also got out with me. Another helper escaped the place through a door on the top of the ship.

01:02 Interviewer: Where were you cutting during that time, on the upper deck or bottom of the ship? 

01:06 S.: I was on the upper portion of the ship using my blowtorch.

01:09 Interviewer: Those who are victim of this accident, where were they?

01:11 S.: They were working in the lower part of the ship.

01:13 Interviewer:  Did you know that they were working below you?  Why did you run your blowtorch?

01:18 S.: No, we didn't know. If I knew that they were working there and an accident could occur like this, we would never start our cutting.

01:25 Interviewer: I was told that the workers have to work in the place according to the orders given by the management, is it correct?

01:30 S.: Yes, this is true.

1:33 S.: Whatever the In-charge instructs us, we are obliged to listen as the foremen are our boss and captain. Whatever they tell us, we have to abide by their commands.

1:45 Interviewer: What is your reaction about this great accident? And, what should be done now?

1:47 S.: The company should check the gas, oil and fuel and take necessary steps to wash them out. If they would have done that there would not be victims of such an accident. 

2:02 Interviewer: One minute please. As you said about the servicing and cleaning—what did you mean by it?

2:07 S.: If there is any oil, fuel or gas, it should be removed, freed somehow. The oils, chemicals of different pipes and machines should be wasted out with running water. This is called servicing.

2:21 Interviewer: Who is responsible for this?

2:22 S.: This is the responsibility of the company itself.

2:24 Interviewer: Do by the companies do it?

2:25 S.: Some companies don't do this.

2:26 Interviewer: Why don't they do it?

2:28 S.: May be it's a matter of money.

2:31 Interviewer: How much needs to be done, and what kind of expenditure?

2:32 S.: If 50 or 100 workers are occupied for this work, the attendance fee, bill, salary will have to be provided by the company. For that reason, the management doesn't do this. They would rather give the responsibility to us, the helpers and cutter men have to clean them.

2:48 S.: If there is any gas in the ships, its weight seems to be lighter. If the ships need to be pulled form the tide, this gas can be used. If there is no gas, the ship will be heavy and sink downward, for that reason they don't service the ships.

3:05 Interviewer: What is your wage?

3:08 S.: My salary is 215 taka for 8 hour duty.

3:16 Interviewer: Are you happy with your payment?

3:18 S.: No, I am not satisfied. Because, what we are doing here with hard labor cannot be compared with any payment.

3:22 Interviewer: When do you go to your duty?

3:24 S.: Now, I go to my duty at 6:00 am.

3:26 Interviewer: And, when do you come back?

3:27 S.: I come back at around 5:00 or 6:00 p.m.. I used to work 10/11 hours. After 8 hours, the OT is counted.

3:34 Interviewer: Usually, when do the workers go to their duties?

3:39 S.: At 6:00 am.

3:42 Interviewer: From what time does the duty start?

3:44 S.: We workers come at 6:00 am.  We need a half an hour to change clothes and then start working.

3:50 Interviewer: From what time is the duty counted?

3:51 S.: From 6:00 am. During the Ramadan the duty starts at 6:00 am and after Ramadan, the duty will start again at 7:00 am.

4:05 Interviewer: I came to know that the duty starts at 7:00 am and ends at 6:00 pm during the Ramadan.

4:10 S.: Yes, this is also being practiced in many fields. But, we practice what I just said. We start work at 6:00 am.

4:16 Interviewer: From 6:00 am to evening?

4:18 S.: From 6:00 am to 5:00 pm.

4:20 Interviewer: So, how many hours are for general duty?

4:22 S.: 11 hours.
44:23 Interviewer: No, general duty.

44:24 S.: The general duty is 8 hours as per rule. And, the duties afterwards are counted as OT.

44: 30 Interviewer: How many hours are you working as general duty.

44:31 S.: 11 hours.

4:33 Interviewer: Now you are doing 8 hours of general duty and what about OT?

4:37 S.: 3 hours for OT duty.

4:40 Interviewer: 3 hours for OT and you are working 11 hours of total duty. You enter at 6:00 am and leave the ship at 5:00 am? Do you get there just in time?

4:51 S.: Yes we attend our duty just in time.

4:56 Interviewer: When the accident occurred, the workers were victim of the fire, and a worker died. What did you do then?

5:03 S.: I did not see how it happened. But, after our escape from the ship, those workers could not get out. As they were farther inside than us, they did not have time to exit.  Also, we did not know they were still inside. If we had seen them, we would have warned them or stopped our cutting. But, we did not know that they entered there.

When I was crossing over the ship, I was looking for my helpers. Our helpers were able to escap in time and be safe. One worker managed to escape through the door in the roof. I asked him is there any worker inside? He said there were four more workers still inside. Afterwards, another worker came through that door and he said three more workers are there. Through this process while I asked the fourth person, he said one more person was there.

The man who died, he finally got out of the ship.  His clothes were burned off, he was naked and his skin was charred.  When I touched the skin on his hand, the skin came off sticking to my finger.  I could see that some skin and flesh had been torn from his body.  We laid him on the deck.  Then he was taken down in a container.  It took 20 to 25 minutes. If the company had any preparation to face such crisis, the accident might have been avoided.

For example, if the company had an ambulance in the yard, they could have taken the injured workers to the hospital, and his life might have been saved. But the company did not do that. For that reason, it took time to send him for medical treatment. The pump was also closed; there was no way to use water on the fire. And, the in-charge did not inform us that he sent workers there. This also happened due to the carelessness of the In-charge, it's an example of his utter failure. Because he did not permit us to cut a door in the side of the ship saying that thieves will enter here. I asked him 2-3 times, but he did not permit me.

7:11 Interviewer: If any worker gets sick, does the company bear the whole expenditure?

7:14 S.: The company allows 8-hour payment.  Medical treatments are sometimes given—but not fully. Usually, they give 10-20 taka per day for medicines. These are the steps taken in normal cases. But, if there is any serious accident, the company continues medical treatment for some more days.

7:32  Interviewer:  Does the company provide any compensation with significant payments for such accidents when the worker dies?

7:35 S.: It depends on the company how much they will give. We are not informed about this. We have seen many companies provided 100,000 or 200,000 or 120,000 taka as compensation.  (The company tries to manage with the lowest possible amount, said another worker.) We don't know how much was paid by our company. And, it is a responsibility of the company to send to the dead body to his home.

7:58 Interviewer: What problems do you face working at your company?

8:02 S.:  We need insulated work suits and gloves, hard hats, boots and goggles.  Sometimes sparks from the [blowtorch] flame and gas hurt our eyes, but the necessary equipment is not supplied to us.  Inside the chambers, there are gas and fumes, but we work without respirators to cover our nose and mouth.  We explained this many times to management.  But the shipyard managers completely ignore these basic safety measures.  If a worker tries to make his voice heard regarding these issues, he loses his job.  This is the rule here.

Transcript #3

A Third Interview with Kabir shipbreaking yard worker

September 7, 2009

00:01 Interviewer: What is your name, please?

00:02 Worker: Mr. Alam.

00:03 Interviewer: What do you do?

00:04 Alam: I work for Kabir Shipyard in a Fitter Group.

00:08 Interviewer: Concerning the recent accident, do you know Mr. Hossain, Mr. Kuddus, Mr. Ashek and Mr. Jahangir.

00:14 Alam: Yes, of course, I know them.

00:15 Interviewer: How did the accident occur?

00:17 Alam: We went down to a tank at the bottom of the ship to take apart the pipes.  After half an hour, the supervisor ordered the cutter-men to start cutting apart the ship above us.  We argued with the supervisor not to put the cutter-men there as it endangered us.  But the in-charge did not listen to us and ordered the cutter-men to start cutting.  Sparks from their blow torches fell into the bottom tank and a fire ignited.  We ran from the tank and went up.  The five workers who were unable to get out on time were trapped by the huge dense black smoke making it harder to get out.  Their bodies were burned by fire.  The condition of two workers was extremely critical.  The other three workers were a little better off than them.  Their condition also deteriorated as the management delayed sending them to the hospital.

1:15 Interviewer: When they were taken to the hospital?

1:19 Alam: These workers were taken to the hospital 1 or 1.5 hours after the accident.

1:21 Interviewer: After 1 to 1.5 hour, why?

1:23 Alam: They did not pay heed to this accident, did not give it any importance.

1.25 Interviewer: Why were they so careless about arranging medical treatment?

1:27 Alam: The management staff and authorities did not take the matter seriously in arranging medical treatment by sending them to the hospital. After half an hour, we started thinking about them, they are my relatives, one of them is my nephew and another is cousin. We were running to and fro. These injured workers were taken to the hospital after one and half hour.

1:55 Interviewer: Do you also work at this field?

1:56 Interviewer: Yes.

1:57 Interviewer: What's your name, please?

1:59 Worker: My name is M--.

2:01 Interviewer: In which group are you working for?

2:02 M: I am working in a Fitter group.

2:04 Interviewer: Did you see how the fire was started and spread?

2:06 M: No, I was not at my duty during the day of accident. I was on leave.

2:09 Interviewer: Did you hear about it?

2:11 M: I came back on that night and came to know about this situation. One of the victims is my cousin, lives beside our house. I became scared hearing about this accident. I went to the medical college hospital at night and saw all the injured workers. It was horrible, their faces were completely changed, and it's not like a human face. The portion below their knee has been burned; their face and hair was burned; their throats were burnt, it was horrifying and scary. At 1:30 am, a worker named Hossain of Kazipur died. It's true it happened and we have to forget it. There was a mistake, they said and I heard. The cutter-men were cutting iron plates on the top with their blow-torch while fitter-men were working below to take apart fuel tanks.  If the cutter-men had not cut with fire during that time, the accident would have not occurred. The cutter-men were cutting, the fitter-men were working, the spark hit the fuel tank—fire broke out-- created dense black smoke, the workers could not see anything because of this black smoke, and they ran away from the place and became victims of such an accident. It is very tragic news. The workers here work very hard, all the workers have to work hard, we all are laborers here, working here for payment. If we can work carefully and if the authority can instruct workers with caution, the accidents can be prevented.

3:53 Interviewer: That means you want to say that if the In-charge had not instructed the cutter-men to work, then the accident would have not taken place?

3:56 Worker: Yes.

4:04 Interviewer: Do you think that the plan of work should be changed? The equipments like helmets, sunglasses etc. are necessary.

4:11 Worker: Listen to me. We need insulated work suits and gloves, hard hats, boots, [respiratory] masks and goggles; but we don't get anything from the company. We have to work there with bare feet. We are provided with neither safety shoes nor gum boots. To work in an iron field, workers need safety shoes and helmets. Anything can fall on your head like bolts and screws, iron and all sorts of scrap from above. Sometime workers are injured by heavy things hitting their heads. It happens several times in every month. But they don't take any safety measures for the workers. If we ask for a pair of gloves, they management shouts "Why do you need gloves to work here". Thus, they humiliate us.

4:57 Interviewer: What other types of misbehave they do?

4:59 Worker: They don't consider us as human or as a worker—treat us like animal.

5:04 Interviewer: They consider you as outsiders?

5:06 Worker: They treat us as outsider-coming from other part of Bangladesh

5:08 Interviewer: So, they are local people, and are behaving rude with you.

5:10 Worker: Yes.

5:14 Interviewer: Hossain, Kuddus and Jahangir; how was their behavior? What kind of men they are?

5:19 Worker: These workers behavior was excellent—they are good men. I don't know why Allah curses on them. They never quarrel with anybody. Men like them are rare. You won't find a man like Hossain. He was man of middle age, used to say prayers regularly, a poor man, a very poor man.  If he had not been poor, he would not have come to work here cutting iron.

Interviewer: Brother, the victims are now in hospital for medical treatment. How are feeling now? What about medical treatment?  What do you think?

Worker: The workers are getting medical treatment at a public hospital. This treatment is not good. They are now in the hospital corridor. The doctors are smearing ointments on their burns. Gradually their conditions are getting worse. I urge you to take steps to shift them to better place for specialized medical care. They need better treatment which the public hospital lacks. They may die if they continue to stay here without proper care. Private clinics provide quality services. If you kindly help them getting admission into a private clinic we will be grateful.      

Interviewer: That means you are saying that victims are not getting proper healthcare services. You are asking for better medical treatment for the burn victims that the public hospital lacks

Worker: The Company is arranging medical treatment. The services here are not sufficient enough for the critical condition of these patients.  The company must pay. We are poor workers—how can we arrange money for treatment? We are trying to raise some money but that  is limited and not enough for better treatment. Treatment in the public hospital will not save their lives. We would be grateful if you would kindly take steps for better medical treatment for the victims.

Worker: We are working here to support our lives. When the month is over and it is time to pay our wages the management makes delays—says payment will be made today--then tomorrow and so on. Thus payment is always delayed and as a result we must take food items on credit from the grocery shop and the landlord shouts at us for being late in paying our house rent. The management records the wage rate as Tk. 230 but in reality we get paid only Tk.130. We do not know where and how the rest of the money goes. We are poor workers, illiterate and cannot protest this unjust treatment.

If we could bargain with management we could have realize more of our needs

When we enter the ship-breaking the management offers us to pay Tk.250 a day. After working one month when we get paid we see they are paying us Tk. 125 a day. Where does the rest of the money go? The management knows better. In addition the management withholds 15 days wages so that we can't flee from the shipyard. How can we survive if they keep 15 days wage at hand. We have our families, parents and kids—how can they survive?

If we try to bargain to gain our rights they call names, shout at us, even beat us. If we could raise these issues all the workers will be greatly benefited.   
Interview with another Kabir  Shipyard worker:

00:01 Interviewer: What is your name, please?

00:03 Worker: My name is S., I work at the Kabir shipyard. I was present at the spot when the accident took place. I work in the same ship. I am cutter man. The worker died--I myself rescued him. When I held him, he was so burned that his body melted with burns. His flesh and burned skin stuck to my hands. It was so horrible an accident that later I got sick.   They were taken to the hospital. The man who died was a good man. He worked at the Kabir shipyard for many years. Five workers got horrendously injured. I would blame the In-Charge for the accident.

00:33 Worker: The pump was not in operation. It was stopped. The workers were asked to cut the fuel pump. The In-charge asked them to shut down the door so that nothing can be stolen from the chamber.

00:43: Due to the negligence of In-charge this accident occurred. No cutter man got injured. Two of my helpers jumped and got out of the ship. They escaped from the deadly accident. Those five fitter workers received severe burn injuries.

01.00: The management delayed taking them to the hospital. I also blamed the management as they did not provide any gloves as frequently demanded  by the workers. There were no supplies of safety equipment at that time and that caused the burns to be worse.

Transcript #4:

An Interview with Workers of Lucky Shipyard—Worker Crushed to Death

August 2009

00:01 Interviewer: Brother, what's your name?

00:03 Worker: My name is M..

00:05 Interviewer: Home District?

00:06 M.: Joypurhat

00:08 Interviewer: Joypur hat?
00:09 M.: Yes.

00:11 Interviewer: In which field are you working?

00:13 M.: I work for 'Lucky'.

0014 Interviewer: What's your designation?

00:16 M.: Cutterman.

00:17 Interviewer: Cutterman?

00:18 M.: Yes.

00:20 Interviewer:  How long have you been working at the shipyard?

00:23 M.: About 5-7 years.

00:24 Interviewer: 5-7 years?

00:25 M.: Yes.

00:26 Interviewer: In which shift are you working?

00:27 M.: Lucky.

00:28 Interviewer: No, which shift?

00:30 M.: Cutter.

00:31 Interviewer: No, day shift or night shift?

00:33 M.: Night shift.

00:36 Interviewer: What's your salary, brother?

00:38 M.: My salary is given as per work"like we start work at 8:00 am".

00:45 Interviewer: No, no, I was asking about your salary.

00:48: Salary? My salary is 150 taka.

00:51 Interviewer: 150 taka for 8 hour work?

00:53 M.: Yes.

00:57 Interviewer: When do you get your salary?

00:59 M.: Our salary, suppose we get at 5th and 20th of the following month. The salary is paid every two weeks.

01:08 Interviewer: Do you work every day in a week.

01:10 M.: No, its not possible to work everyday.

01:12 Interviewer: Why?

01:14 M.: After working two days in a row I cannot work for next 3/4 days. It is very hard job.

01:28 Interviewer: When do you go to work?

01:30 M.: At 8:00 pm. That is we have to attend at 7:30 pm at the field. And we have to work till at 8:30 am.

01:42 Interviewer: What about dinner?

01:44 M.: We have no opportunity to take meal at night.

01:49 Interviewer: Aren't you provided with any tea time or anything like that?

01:51 M.: Yes, with very light food, like nimki (fried flour) and parata (bread)

01:55 (Worker close Mr. M.): At around 2:00 am, the company provides nimki which costs 3 taka and workers are given sometime leisure to eat anything with our own money. Dinner break at 10.00 pm. Another break is at 6:00 am to eat something with our own money. The company only gives one break at 2:00 for nimki or biscuit which is 3 taka per piece. Also, tea is served which has no taste at all, none will be able to drink that.

02:22 Interviewer: Do you get leaves from the company?

02:24 Worker (right one): We are not provided with leaves. We just don't go to work on our own when any urgent situation comes. For example, if I need to go my village, then we take leave and go to village. We are not provided with any payments for those days when we are on leave.

02:36 Interviewer: If you become sick, the company doesn't provide you any leave?

02:39 Worker: No, no, if you can't work, you will not be paid.

02:41 Interviewer: If one cannot work, there is no payment?

02:43 Worker: No, there is no payment if we cannot work.

02:47 Interviewer: How much is your salary?

02:49 Worker: As I am a helper, I am paid 125 for 8 hour duty.

03:01 Interviewer: How much can you earn a month on average?

03:03 Worker: I cannot work all the days in a month as the work here is very hard. I can work 25 days or 20 days a month. As my family is very needy, I am obliged to work as much as possible though its very hard labor. The salary is poor. I have to manage some money within it and send some money at home.

03:33 Interviewer: What time do you enter at your duty place.

03:37 M.: At 8:00 pm.

03:40 Interviewer: And at morning?

03:42 Workers: Till at 8:00 am.

03:44 Interviewer: During your duty, did there anything happen very frightening?

03:48 M.: Yes, it happens very often? Even workers die in front of us our eyes.

03:53 Worker: For example, just in three months or it may be three and half months before, one worker died.

4:00 M.: His name was Babul.

4:01 Interviewer: What's his name?

4:03 Worker: His name was Babul.

4:04 Interviewer: From where he came?

4:05 Workers: Hasnabad.

04:06 Interviewer: Hasanbad?

04:07 Workers: Yes, Hasnabad.

04:10 Interviewer: How did he die?

04:11 Mahamud: A iron plate fell on him.

04:21 Interviewer: Okay, did the worker die in front of you?

04:23 Workers: Yes, in front of us. """"""""""

04:27 Interviewer: How did he die, could you please explain?

04:32 M.: Okay, like one parda"

04:41 Interviewer: What is parda?

04:43 M.: Parda means the iron plate (load), means the parts of ships. This iron plate was being cut on its upper side. Suddenly, the load slipped down and fell on him and he died.

05:01 Interviewer: Did the load fall on him?

05:05 Worker: The steel plate fell on him and the heavy load crushed him.

05:15 M.:  The plate was supposed to be secured so it could be cut from any side, but the load suddenly fell on him.   Afterwards, the load was turned aside with a machine [a winch] to get the man out. We all helped to get him out.

05:42 Interviewer: When did the incident happen?

05:44 Workers: It was 3 or 3.5 months ago.

05:46 Interviewer: 3 months or 3 and half months?

05:47 Worker M.: Yes. On 19th April at around 10:00 pm or 11:00 pm.

05:57 Another worker: To get the dead body out from under the load, it took from 12 midnight to 1:00 am.

6:00 Interviewer: To get the dead body out?

6:01 Workers: Yes. """"""""""""""".. It was not possible to do without a machine. We all worked together with the machine. After attaching the machine, we were able to take the load off of the man.

6:22 Interviewer: How was the dead body after it was released from the load?

6:24 M.: The metal plate was turned over with the machine and we saw that his appearance was changed. He was just smashed by the load. Our work is so risky that we always face deadly situations.

6:51 Interviewer: When anyone dies, do you stop your work?

6:55 Workers: Yes, we stop our work.

6:57 Interviewer: Don't you protest?
7:00 Worker: The owner doesn't allow it. If anyone protests, will be ousted.

7:07 Interviewer: What happens if workers protest?

7:11 Worker: Workers will be out if they protest. Workers will not be allowed then to stay in the field.

7:17 Interviewer: Okay the worker who died in your field, what was his name?

7:21 Worker: Babul.

7:23 Interviewer: Did he get the compensation?

7:25 M.: Yes, very little amount, very insignificant amount. On the other hand, money is nothing to a life. If anyone lost his life, what will he do with the money? Is it possible to get the man alive again if the money is given?

7:50 Interviewer: Do you know how much was given to his family? Do you know anything regarding this?

7:56 M.: We heard that only 20,000 taka was given.

8:00 Interviewer: Didn't you see while the money was given?

8:02 M.: No, we didn't see it.

8:04 Interviewer: Wasn't it provided in front of you?

8:05 M.: No.

8:08 Interviewer: What do you think about your working environment here?

8:16 Worker: The environment is worse than a prison. We work here only to buy food to survive. Otherwise, it is not a workplace fit for a human being. I have no words to explain. My colleague might tell something, but I can't explain.

8:39 Interviewer: Brother, what's your name?

8:41 Worker: My name is F..

8:42 Interviewer: In which field are you working?

8:43 F.:  Lucky filed.

8:44 Interviewer: For how long?

8:46 F.: For 3/4 years.

8:49 Interviewer: Okay, a worker died here in Lucky field, is it true?

8:54 Interviewer: What was his name?

8:55 F.: His name was Babul.

8:57 Interviewer: Where is he from?

8:58 F.: Hasnabad.

8:59 Interviewer: Hasnabad?

9:00 Interviewer: How long ago did the worker die?

9:03 F.: May be three or three and half months ago.

9:05 Interviewer: Three and half months?

9:06 F.: Yes.

9:07 Interviewer: How did the worker die?

9:08 F.: A huge iron plate fell on him.

9:13 Interviewer: Did he die in front of you?

9:15 F.: Yes, he died in front of us.

9:17 Interviewer: What was his position?

9:18 F.: He was cutter.

9:20 Interviewer: Cutter man?

9:21 F.: Yes.

9:23 Interviewer: When he died in front of you, what did you do then?

9:27 F.: We stopped our work and used a machine to pull the iron plate from him. He was disfigured with the pressure of load. This iron plate was huge and it took some time to work with it and we had to work till mid-night. Afterwards, his dead body was taken for post mortem. A lump-sump money was given to his parents.

10:03 Interviewer: What do you mean by lump-sump money, how much was given?
10:05 F.: Around 10,000 taka.

10:06 Interviewer: Not more than that?

10:07 F.: Hmm.

10:10 Interviewer: How do you feel working here/

10:14 F.: What can I say.  We are fighting with death always. This is not work. This is a place of punishment and death.

10:31 Interviewer: Brother, what's your name?

10:33 Worker:  My name is A--. 

10:34 Interviewer: A--?

10:35 A.: Hmm.

10:36 Interviewer: Which field are you working for?

10:38 A.: Lucky field.

10:39 Interviewer: For how long?

10:40 A.: Around for last 7/8 years.

10:43 Interviewer: 7/8 years?

10:44 A.: Yea.

10:47 Interviewer: How much are you paid?

10:48 A.: I am getting" you intend to know my salary in a month or in 8 hour?

10:54 Interviewer: In 8 hours.

10:57 A.: In 8 hours, I get 145 taka.

10:59 Interviewer: What is the payment system here? Are you paid by month or by week?

11:01 A.: The salary is paid on the 5th and 20th. Payment is given every 15 days.

11:05 Interviewer: How much do you get in 15 days?

11:07 A.: 2,400 to 2,500 taka.

11:11 Interviewer: Are you happy with this salary?

11:13 A.: No, this is very poor amount. We are obliged to do this work to survive.

11:18 Interviewer: Do you get sick working here?

11:20 A.: Of course. """"

11:24 Interviewer: Are you able to work 30 days a month?

11:26 A.: No, it's not possible.

11:28 Interviewer: Why?

11:29 A.: I cannot do this, because it's very painful work. Our hands and legs are being hurt, burned by fire. We always have headaches, its very hard job.

11:40 Interviewer: Have you every faced any dangerous situation while working? Or, did you see any danger?

11:43 A.: Yes, I have seen.

11:45 Interviewer: How was that, please explain.

11:46 A.: I have seen many worker's legs and hands broken. Many workers died.

11:53 Interviewer: As per your knowledge, do you know anyone died?

11:56 A.: Yes, of course, I know workers died.

11:57 Interviewer: Please explain what happened?

11:59 A.: A huge iron plate was raised up, the upper portion of it was cut and afterwards, the lower portion was being cut. While it was being cut on its lower portion, the whole plate fell on a worker. Then all the workers, 40-50 workers, all helped to pull  the plate off with a machine. Then we took the man out from that place and took him to the office. The worker actually died on the spot. He just died there. We put him at the office and we all were ordered to get out from there.

12:52 Interviewer: What do you mean that you were all forced to get out?

12:54 A.: We were asked to get out from the office.

12:56 Interviewer: Means, you all were asked to leave the field?

12:58 A.: Yes. There was no work continued for that day after this incident.

13:01 Interviewer: So, what happened afterwards?

13:04 A.: Afterwards, the management called by their cell phone to "

13:13 Interviewer: His guardian was called, isn't it?

13:18 A.: Then it was dawn. We saw that the dead body was going out through the gate. After that we did not see the dead body. """"""""""""""""..

13:38 Interviewer: What else deadly experience do you have?

13:40 A.: A man died by a huge load in front of my eyes, I cannot forget this scenario from my mind.
13:48 Interviewer: So, did it upset you and hampers your work?

13:50 A.: Yes, we don't feel any interest to work. Now, we continue work due to our poverty and to manage food.

13:57 Interviewer: What is your native village?

13:59 A.: Dorihat District, Akkelpur Police Station, Khatail Nagar.

14:05 Interviewer: Okay, how long did you say you worked here?

14:09 A.: It would be around 8/10 years.

14:13 Interviewer: 8-10 years?

14:14 A.: Hmm.

14:15 Interviewer: Did you work in shipyards during this whole time?

14:16 A.: Yes. I worked for this shipyard for last 8-10 years.

14:21 Interviewer: To your knowledge, have you experienced many other dangerous incidents? 

14:23 A.: Yes, many dangerous incidents happened in front of me.

14:28 Interviewer: So, why do you work here after having experienced these incidents?

14:30 A.: Because we are poor people. We have to mange food to survive. We cannot do anything except this work. Now, we are obliged to do this work.

14:44 Interviewer: Is it possible for you to send some money to your home (village)?

14:46 A.: We send money every month, but very small amount, may be around 2,000 to 2,500 taka are being sent to home somehow. After spending for house rent, food and other costs, I used to send 2,000 taka to my home. It is very big amount for me.

15:05 Interviewer: The amount of salary you are paid, are you happy with it?

15:10 A.: No, we cannot manage anything with this salary. Even, a rickshaw puller can earn 400 to 500 taka per day, how can we manage with only 150 taka. Is it possible to run our family brother, no way.  Abroad, workers involved with this ship breaking work, can earn huge amount of money. And, here we work 12 hours for only 150 taka. Moreover, sometimes we do not get our salary on time. We are doing it just for managing food to survive.


Transcript #5:

Interview with Workers from Lucky Shipbreaking Yard, also known as "M&M Shipbreaking Yard"

July 15, 2009


NLC: How many" are they all from the same ship yard?
Translator:  They are from four shipyards"
Translator: Lucky—L-U-C-K-Y.   [and] Iron shipyard.  Kabir Steel.  K-A-B-I-R.   Shafi shipyard, S-H-A-F-I. "
NLC: So, they all work on the night shift?
Workers: [nod heads] yes"

Translator:  In the back is Shufi, front is Lucky.
NLC: Let's do Lucky first then.
NLC: So"Do they know the name of the ship they are working on now?
Workers:  [Not audible]
NLC: so, how many ships are they dismantling?  One, two, is it always one ship per yard?
Workers:  Three
NLC: three ships?
Workers:  Three ships at a time
NLC: And how many people work in Lucky?...
Translator [to workers]:  How many workers are there in total, day and night, cutters, helpers, everything
Workers:  [Discussion among themselves.] More than 1,000. Maybe 1200—all workers.
NLC: so that's a big yard. [Workers nod agreement.] How long does it take to dismantle a ship? Does it take a month and half or how long?
Workers:  6 months
NLC: 6 months for a big tanker? And that's working around the clock?
Workers:  6 months
NLC: So, when a ship is beached, and the electricity is cut off,  can they tell us, how do they go into the ship and start dismantling the ship?  So the ship is in complete darkness. What do they do first?  How do they go into the ship and start dismantling it?
Workers: Generators
NLC: so when they work at night, they have lights inside the ship?
Workers: At night, there is no work inside. 
NLC:  No work inside? "
Workers/Translator: Outside, on the ground. They work on the outside.
NLC:  So, they work on the outside?
Workers: yes
NLC: And as cutters, what are they doing?  Cutting up the pieces, into what size?
Workers: 8 feet by 10 feet.  "seven feet.
NLC: so it varies in size?
Workers:  Highest, Fifteen feet.  Fifteen - sixteen feet.
NLC: How wide?...
Translator:  They are explaining:  There is a truck that carries the load.  The truck has 15 feet length, so they cut to that size.
NLC:  But always 8 foot or"?
Workers:  4 foot by 5 feet.  Six feet.  Seven feet.  Maximum, 4 feet.
NLC: So that's what they do at night?  They cut the plates up? The plates are lying on the ground?  That's what they are cutting?
Workers:  Cut everything on the ground at night, into smaller pieces.
Worker talking:
Translator: he is giving an example. If they want to cut this [piece] in two parts.  Cut in half and then cut, in two pieces. 
NLC: So what do the helpers do? Do they knock out the rust out of the way, where the cutter is going to cut?
Workers/Translator: They carry the oxygen.  They carry on [their] shoulder.  [They gesture that the tank is large].
35:35 [becomes dark]
Workers/Translator:  The helper just switch off, switch on.  Keep the gas coming.  Cutterman, the cutterman hold the torch or flame.  He actually holds the flame.
NLC:  When the cutter is cutting, is it very hot?  Do the flames and the fumes of the metal, does it bounce back off onto them?  Are they breathing fumes and is it very hot?
Workers/Translator:  Their eyes are watering.  Burns their eyes.  They inhale these smells and gas enters the nose". Headache and vomiting.  Headache, nausea, fainting. 
[Various workers talking all together. ]
NLC:  Is it from the fumes?
Worker:  Two days back, the same thing happened.
NLC: is he inside or outside the ship?
Workers/Translator: outside
Workers/Translator:  He says fumes go into the nose, gets dizzy.   He has to go for fresh air, a few yards away.
NLC:  and what are the fumes?  Fumes coming out of the metal being cut?  Fumes are coming out of the metal?
Workers/Translator:  They come from the metal.  And sometimes there is paint on the iron.  Not only metal, there is also paint, burning.
NLC: So there's often paint" that would be lead paint" so they are cutting through the paint?
Workers/Translator:  Yes.  Yes.  It stinks, yeah? Filthy.  Sometimes they cannot bear the"
NLC:   So this is a big yard, Lucky, this is a very big yard.  Do they give them helmets and metal-tipped boots?  Do they give them goggles and gloves and the whole works?
Workers/Translator:  No.  Only gloves.  The management only provides gloves to the cutterman, not the helper.  And they don't provide the helpers with boots or googles.  Gloves, only cutter.
NLC:  So what do they use for goggles? Are they buying goggles?
Workers/Translator:   Sun glasses.  They buy sunglasses.
NLC:  They don't have aprons?
Workers/Translator:  No. No.  Only some shirts.  they buy gum boots".rubber boots
NLC: Don't their feet sweat inside those boots?
Workers/Translator:  Yes, and sometimes there is itching, sweating.
NLC:  Do they use socks
Workers/Translator:  They don't use socks, they actually cut the pants and just use them those.
Translator to workers:  No socks.
Workers:  Zhute.  Pieces of zhute.
NLC:  Are socks just too expensive?
Workers:  The gumboots are big, big.
Workers/translator:  Sometimes the flames go inside, through the boot.
Translator:  Not jute they mean "zhute".  "Zhute means garments—reject products.
NLC:  So, it could be a piece of pants or it could be a shirt.
 [Workers nod their heads] the boots are pretty big then?
Workers:  Yes.
NLC:  but they're also big sizes?  Are the boots like size ten or twelve?
Workers/Translator: bigger than their foot.
NLC:  Do they get infections from the constant sweating in the boots?
Workers/Translator:  It's so hot.  They say that sometimes they take it off.  And get like fresh air
sometimes.  But their legs, their feet get hot.
NLC:  And they work 12 hours every night?  How many hours do they work?
Workers/Translator:  Eight to 8.  Regularly.  But sometimes more hours.
NLC:  When was the last time they worked longer?
Workers/Translator:  Mostly about about 12 hours.
NLC: twelve hours.  And do they work five days and six days a week?
Workers/Translator: They work Fridays, because if they take, they don't get paid
NLC: so how many days off a month do they take? 
Workers/Translator: Three days.  Average 3 days.
NLC:  At most 3 days?  Average 3 days or at most 3 days.
Workers/Translator: Average 3 days but [if they get] sick, more days.
NLC:  They don't get paid sick days either.
Workers/Translator: Three days minimum.  Three days they don't work in a month.
NLC: Three days?  Three days minimum or maximum.
Workers/Translator:  minimum.
NLC:  So sometimes they take more days?
Workers/Translator:  Minimum 3,  maximum 4 days.  Sometimes they are sick.  Sometimes they say prayers on Fridays.  Sometimes they have some relative come.  So sometimes they don't work three Fridays, and maximum 4 days. 
NLC:  And what do the cutters earn in a month?
Workers/Translator:  One hundred sixty, seventy. 
NLC:  Around 170 for the senior operator"?
Workers/Translator:  umm"160 [$2.33] or 170 [$2.47] for 8 hours.  But they work 12 hours, then they get accordingly, proportionally.  [$2.33 to $2.47 per 8 hour shift = 29 to 31 cents an hour]
NLC:  They don't get paid overtime premium or do they?
Workers/Translator:  Actually, for 8 hours they only get 160 or 170.  For hours overtime they get paid regular, not double.  Sometimes they work 8 hours, 10 hours, 12 hours.
NLC: How often do they work the 12 hour shift, is that very rare?
Workers/Translator:   No. No. "They say if they work seven hours, then they'll not get 170, they will divide by eight and they will calculate per hour. If they work seven hours then they will not get 170, they will get less pay. Then they'll 170 divide 8 and multiply by the number of hours.
NLC: how often do they work 12, is it very rare?  The 12 hour shift.
Workers/Translator: He's saying, in a month 16 to 18 days, we work 12 hours.  
NLC:  When do they take a supper break, their breaks?
Workers/Translator:  Before they join work at 8:00 they take supper.  But there is a break at 10 and they take some tea or snacks.
NLC: Is that their only break in the night?
Workers/Translator:  And also at 2 a.m. early morning. 
NLC:  Biscuit?  Tea?
Workers/Translator: biscuit and tea, yeah.  Not for the day workers, only for night workers.
NLC:  So the company pays for the tea and biscuit.
Workers/Translator: Yes.  The company provides.
NLC: is it a half an hour break?  How long is the break?
Workers/Translator:  Half an hour, 30 minutes.
NLC: how about at 10 o'clock, how long is that break?
Workers/Translator:  Half an hour, But they have to pay for tea or coffee or biscuits.
NLC: how long do the gloves last that the company gives them?
Workers/Translator: Ten days
NLC: then they give them new ones?
Workers/Translator: Yes, every ten days.
NLC: every ten days"
Workers/Translator: yes, four times a month.  They are not high quality.
NLC:  and what do they use for" do they wrap bandanas around their face?  How do they block the fumes?
Workers/Translator: no, no medicine
NLC: but do they use bandanas?
Workers/Translator: no, they use nothing.  No, nothing.  They don't use anything on the face.
NLC:  they don't use bandanas" to block"
Workers/Translator: No.  Only gloves.
NLC: But they wear glasses right?
Workers/Translator:  They buy the sunglasses.
NLC: They wear glasses.  Do they wear hats so sparks don't get in their hair?
Workers/Translator:   Cap.  [a worker shows baseball cap.] they buy these caps.
NLC:  and do they wear a handkerchief or a bandana around their faces to stop the fumes?
Workers/Translator:  No
NLC:  So, they don't use anything.
Workers/Translator: mask, yes a mask.  They don't use anything, like any mask or"
NLC:  Just sunglasses and a baseball cap?
Workers:  Yes.
NLC:  Just a few more questions about Lucky"
Translator:  These (pointing to workers in front of camera) are Lucky.
NLC:  At Lucky, how many kids work at Lucky?  You know, young people.  Anybody working there that's ten, eleven,  twelve,  thirteen?
Workers:  He is sixteen.  [Points to worker in orange shirt.]   
NLC:  When did he start?
Workers: 5 months. 
NLC: how many kids?  Are there 12-year olds working there?
Workers:  10 to 20
NLC: an how old are they? Are you talking about 12 year-olds, 13 year-olds?
Workers:  10, 12 years.
NLC:  And they only work on the day shift, or they work at night too?
Workers:  Both day and night shift".
[Young worker in orange shirt speaks with translator]
NLC:  What's his job?  He works at night too?
Workers/Translator:  He carries bottles.  He cleans the metal.
NLC:  Does he work seven days a week or does he take time off  too?
Young workers/Translator:  In June, he works only 6 days, 4 days off.   Plus he's saying he is sick. ". In July he worked eleven days because he was sick.
NLC: Have there been any injuries at the ship yard lately?  "Not only him, everybody.  Has there been any injuries at the ship yard lately, at lucky?
Workers/Translator:  He is saying it is common.
Worker shows his toes.
Workers/Translator: "fall down, on his toes.
NLC:  Does he work barefoot?  Without shoes?
Workers/Translator:  He does wear, but it doesn't work.
NLC: the boots?  Okay.
NLC:  Have there been any serious injuries in Lucky. Not just with him.  Anybody.  At Lucky
end of tape

Transcript #6

Meeting with Workers from the Bhatiary Steel Shipbreaking Yard

February 14, 2009

Meeting begins

Translator: I am telling them that what the, working conditions, how they feel, they should be honest with us.  We'll learn and then we'll come again to work with them on these issues so there is a solution. 

NLC: We thank people for meeting with us.  We're from New York City in the United States, and we're here to ask questions so we can try to help.  So that's why we're asking questions.  We might have the ability to put pressure on some of the big shipping companies to improve conditions for the workers.  And for years we've worked closely with the National Garment Workers Federation and so that's how we know Bangladesh.

So, they work as ship breakers?  On the inside or outside of the ships?

Workers:  Shipbreakers.  Cutting. Cutting.