Jump to main content
IndustriALL logotype

Bangladesh’s shipbreaking unions key in helping workers

7 March, 2024Shipbreaking is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Workers employed at shipbreaking yards are forced to work in precarious working conditions for poverty wages. Cutting a vessel in the absence of safety equipment or lack of proper training for the job,  poses an immense danger to workers’ lives. 

The situation in Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards is far from different. Last year, more than thirty accidents took place in shipbreaking yards, killing at least five workers while injuring several others. IndustriALL and its affiliates have been continuously working towards making Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards more safe for workers. It’s a daunting task to organize workers in the sector because work is seasonal and the concept of a permanent workforce does not exist.

Additionally, employers discourage organizing efforts in their yards, often engaging in union busting activities, as they don’t want the organized workforce to safeguard their rights. Despite these challenges, IndustriALL’s affiliates continue to organize workers and assert their rights to safe workplace. 

In the last three years, affiliates have recorded and reported accidents and managed to ensure that employers pay compensation to workers and their families in cases of injury or death at the workplace. The Bangladesh Metalworkers Federation (BMF) was successful in obtaining compensation of BDT50,000 (US$450) for an injured worker, and secured treatment costs of BDT20,000 (US$180) for another.

The Bangladesh Metal, Chemical, Garment & Tailors Worker Federation (BMCGTWF) assisted a pump operator at SN Corporation to be compensated BDT100,000 (US$900). It also helped a foreman’s family be compensated BDT6,32,000 (US$5700), the worker died at Motalab Steel. 

The unions have also been actively pursuing cases of workers’ rights violations in labour courts. BMCGTWF has filed two new cases regarding the dismissal of workers from Crystal Shippers Ltd. BMF was also successful in achieving an order in favour of the unionists at Janata Steel when false charges were pressed.

In 2023, BMF and BMCGTWF were successful in ensuring the reinstatement of 78 workers and obtained termination benefits and festival bonuses to some workers who lost their jobs. The unions also assisted 97 workers to obtain their severance pay from the employers.

Last year, IndustriALL’s campaign efforts to get the Bangladesh government to ratify the Hong Kong Convention (HKC) yielded result when the country ratified the convention. The HKC is set to enter into force next year. The HKC is a crucial tool in ensuring safety of workers at yards.

Walton Pantland, IndustriALL’s shipbuilding and shipbreaking director, says:

“Shipbreaking is a difficult and dangerous environment for unions to organize in. Our affiliates in Bangladesh are responding to workers’ needs, by fighting injustice, winning reinstatement and demanding compensation. The next step is to organize collectively, and to win recognition from yard owners, the employers’ association and the government.”