Nepal Quake Galvanizes Local Unions; Felt in Bangladesh

With thousands of people dead and even more made homeless in Nepal following a devastating magnitude-7.8 earthquake, Solidarity Center union allies in the country are reporting no casualties among their staff and are organizing to support relief efforts in the Nepali capital.

The General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT), which represents mostly blue-collar workers, the Nepal Trade Union Congress (NTUC), which includes teachers and other white-collar workers and the Joint Trade Union Coordination Center (JTUCC), the umbrella organization of GEFONT and the NTUC, say their employees are safe and now working to provide disaster relief. Both GEFONT and the NTUC represent many workers in the tourist industry.

“Kathmandu valley is unimaginably destroyed,” says Bishnu Rimal, GEFONT president. “It is the most terrible quake we have ever experienced. Chilling cold, plus rain, lack of tents and [continuous] jolts is sufficient to scare people. It has disturbed even rescue work.”

The earthquake hit central Nepal on Saturday, from Mount Everest to Kathmandu and further west, wiping out entire villages. As rescue teams began to arrive from around the world, much of the stricken area remained inaccessible, locked in mountainous terrain with some roads blocked by landslides.

In letters to Rimal and Khila Dahal, NTUC general secretary, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka expressed heartfelt condolences and solidarity.

“We will … work with the global labor movement to ensure that the working families impacted by this tragedy receive the support needed to rebuild their communities,” Trumka said.

The earthquake and aftershocks were felt as far away as Dhaka, Bangladesh, where one garment worker was killed and more than 200 injured as workers rushed out of factories when the quake hit.

At least one worker reported to Solidarity Center staff there that he took successful safety measures at his factory when the quake hit because of skills he learned at a recent Solidarity Center’s fire and building safety training. In recent months, the Solidarity Center has held a series of safety trainings for garment workers near Dhaka and Chittagong, where most factories are located. The 10-day trainings provide workers with hands-on fire and building safety experience, which includes steps to take during earthquakes.