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Bangladeshi unions reject inadequate labour law changes

13 June, 2013 Bangladeshi union leaders have rejected new labour law proposals drawn up by the government, saying they failed to improve their right to organize workers and guarantee freedom of association.

At the end of May, the Executive Committee of IndustriALL Global Union adopted a four-point action plan for Bangladesh:

  • Implementation of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety
  • Labour law reform to secure freedom of association
  • Raising the minimum wage from US$38 a month to reach living wage by 2015
  • Launching a massive organizing project to ensure union presence in 5,000 garment factories

Following international pressure and a high-level ILO mission to Bangladesh in May, the Bangladeshi government adopted a proposal on a labour law reform to be presented to the parliament. However, early positive signs have all but evaporated and the package has proved to be a deception. Respect for the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, in particular the rights to organize unions and bargain collectively, is severely lacking.

As an improvement, a former provision that factory owners be given the names of workers wishing to join unions may disappear in the new law. However, Bangladeshi union leaders point out that severe obstacles to unionization, registering of unions, collective bargaining, and the right to conduct strikes remain. In addition, the 360,000 workers in Bangladesh’s eight export processing zones will remain excluded from protection under the labour law, instead relegated to a separate law that prohibits workers from forming a union.

Also the campaign for an increase in the minimum wage from 38 USD a month for four million Bangladeshi garment workers remains stalled, as a result of employers’ resistance.

With so many factory owners holding seats in parliament, it is no surprise that workers’ rights are still being stifled,

said Sharan Burron, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Burrow called upon the US and EU to step up pressure for real reform.

Rana Plaza and other industrial homicides have demonstrated why Bangladeshi garment workers need strong national unions and local level union and safety representatives. A labour law reform that guarantees the rights enshrined in ILO Conventions is a necessary starting point for that,

said Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union.