30 August, 2023A round table meeting was convened by IndustriALL in Bangladesh on 30 August, bringing together government, shipbreaking yard employers and local unions to plan the way forward after the country’s ratification of the Hong Kong Convention.
The Hong Kong Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships (HKC) was ratified by Bangladesh and Liberia in June 2023, fulfilling the requirements for its entry into force in June 2025. After this, it will be illegal under international law to break ships in non-compliant yards.
The ratification represents a major victory for IndustriALL, which has campaigned since 2010 to clean up shipbreaking. The shipbreaking yards of South Asia have a terrible reputation for worker deaths and environmental destruction, which the HKC will address by mandating an acceptable standard for ship recycling.
Shipyards in Bangladesh are undergoing major refurbishments to meet the new international standard, supported by an International Maritime Organization (IMO) project called SENSREC.
IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kan Matsuzaki said:
“At the same time as Bangladesh upgrades its physical infrastructure, it needs to upgrade its social infrastructure. We need a just transition to sustainable ship recycling, achieved through social dialogue. In practice, this means that yard owners need to recognize unions, negotiate collective agreements, set up joint health and safety committees and participate in dialogue with government and unions.”
The round table meeting was attended by representatives of the Bangladeshi ministries of industries, labour and employment, and the environment, as well as district government. Employers were represented by the Bangladesh Ship Breakers and Recyclers Association (BSBRA), and unions by IndustriALL’s two affiliates in the sector, the Bangladesh Metalworkers’ Federation (BMF) and the Bangladesh Metal, Chemical, Garments, & Tailors Workers Federation (BMCGTWF).
Mohammed Mominur Rashid of the Ministry of Industries, who was instrumental in driving the ratification, said that shipbreaking had created a bad reputation for Bangladesh. The country ratified because it felt a historic responsibility to change the industry, protect workers’ lives and the environment, and build a better future.
BSBRA representative, and managing director of the PHP shipyard, Mohamed Zahuril Islam, said that he was pleased about the ratification as it positioned the country as a world leader. He said that mistrust between unions and employers needs to be broken down, and bridges built. Employers need to understand that a union can be a benefit to their business.
Both expressed concerns that the mechanisation that comes with upgrading yards would lead to job losses. The meeting discussed the importance of Just Transition, with a social dialogue process to steer the industry through a period of dramatic change.
Participants held a frank discussion about the challenges facing each group, with local unions raising the problem of low wages and anti-union activity, the lack of an ambulance service and other issues. The meeting discussed the Indian example, where the ILO is facilitating a series of social dialogue workshops.
On 29 August, a union delegation visited the PHP shiprecycling yard, the first in Bangladesh to achieve HKC compliance. Workers at the yard are provided with high quality protective equipment (PPE), and ships are recycled methodically according to an approved plan. PHP has onsite facilities for safely processing waste, including asbestos, oil and bilge water. The workplace has an onsite clinic, with workers undergoing regular health checks. There are now four yards in Bangladesh which are HKC compliant, with several more expected this year. All yards will need to meet this standard by June 2025.