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Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Page: 3310


Mr BYRNE (Holt) (10:27): Today I am here to inform this chamber of the significance of constructive international unionism and the efforts made by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association, known as the SDA, to improve conditions for workers not only here in Australia but around the world, particularly in places where workers do not have the rights or the representation or the protections that people in Australia have.

On 24 April 2013, tragedy struck Bangladesh when Rana Plaza, an eight-story garment-manufacturing factory, collapsed, killing over 1,100 people and leaving many more seriously injured. More than half of those killed were women and their children, who had been in a childcare facility in the building while their parents were working. Ninety-two per cent of the survivors, and there were many, have not returned to work, with many having lost limbs or having suffered complete paralysis and continuing to suffer psychological trauma.

Perhaps the most shocking part of this tragedy is that it could have been prevented. The day before the collapse of Rana Plaza, workers noticed cracks that appeared in the building. However, upon notifying the relevant authorities, they were told that they would lose a month's pay if they did not turn up for work the next day. And so, in spite of the dangerous conditions, workers returned to work, fearing that they would lose their pay or their jobs. Sadly, they lost much, much more.

Bangladesh is the second largest garment-producing country in the world behind China and is a major supplier for the international fashion industry, Australia particularly included. Although no Australian companies were found to have direct links to Rana Plaza, the disaster has had a profound impact here. Through its affiliation with the Union Network International, UNI, a global network of retail unions, the SDA chose to act in partnership with the global manufacturing union, IndustriALL, and establish the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, commonly referred to as the Bangladesh accord.

The accord is a legally binding independent agreement seeking to ensure all garment factories in Bangladesh are safe workplaces. The International Labour Organization acts as an independent chair and various non-governmental organisations are witness signatories to the accord. The Bangladesh accord insists on independent inspections and public reporting of inspection results, and when safety issues are identified retailers are responsible for ensuring repairs are funded and carried out and that workers continue to be paid. A number of Australian companies are signatories to this accord, including K-Mart, Target, Woolworths, Pacific Brands, and Cotton On Group.

This accord is very significant, and I would like to commend the work of the SDA and its officials for their significant efforts not only here in Australia, where it protects workers' conditions, wages and rights within the workplace, but also around the world, particularly through its affiliation with Union Network International. The Bangladesh accord now covers one-third of the Bangladeshi textile industry, protecting workers in 1,600 factories across Bangladesh. It is a significant achievement.