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27 October, 2023Several workers’ organisations made a complaint under Article 26 to the International Labour Conference in 2019 on the non-observance of Conventions 81, 87 and 98 by the Government of Bangladesh (GoB).
Following the complaint, the ILO Governing Body requested the GoB to develop, in consultation with the social partners and with support from the ILO Office, a time-bound roadmap of actions with concrete outcomes to address the issues outlined in the complaint. The GoB submitted a roadmap in May 2021 around four priority areas, namely: (i) labour law reforms, (ii) trade union registration, (iii) labour inspection and enforcement, (iv) addressing acts of anti-union discrimination/unfair labour practices and violence against workers.
On 12 October, 2023, the GoB submitted the latest progress report on the ILO Roadmap's implementation to the Governing Body. The submission comes ahead of the ILO GB meeting, which is scheduled to begin on 30 October, and includes Bangladesh on the agenda.
The latest report notes the proposed draft amendments to the Bangladesh Labour Act have been finalised. A National Tripartite Consultative Council (NTCC) had been constituted under the Roadmap to finalise the draft amendments. IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC) has a seat in the NTCC.
IndustriALL’s affiliates inform that the amendments proposed by them have not been taken into consideration before submitting the proposed amendments to the Cabinet for approval.
Affiliates have proposed the removal of the clause wherein workers who voluntarily resign without giving notice, are paid severance benefit after deducting two months’ wages. Affiliates also proposed that workers who worked for less than five years be entitled to resignation benefits, and that termination benefit must be payable if workers are not interested in joining work at the new location when a factory is relocated, include an independent expert/outsider in the disciplinary investigation matters, and maternity benefits be paid in line with what is provided to government employees.
Regarding trade union registration, the report highlights the simplification of the registration process through digitization.
However, affiliates report that the registration process cannot be completed online alone and that the hard copies of the supporting documents need to submitted at the office of the Department of Labour (DoL) within three days of the online application being completed. The process of physically visiting the DoL office to turn in the paperwork is not mentioned in the GoB report. Furthermore, affiliates report that they have not been adequately trained in the online registration process despite claims to the contrary mentioned in the GoB report.
Only one training has been held so far, in January 2023. IBC members who took part in the training programme shared that the Standard Operating Procedures on trade union registration, developed with the assistance from ILO, were discussed but there was no specific discussion on how to put them in practice. Since then, no further awareness-raising activities have taken place. While the report notes that pre-application service desks are open to assist with the registration procedure, in practise these desks are non-operational.
In 2023, a total of 20 proposed unions supported by IndustriALL’s Bangladesh affiliates, filed for registration, out of which only two applications were approved. Two others which were filed in 2022 were also approved in 2023. Fifteen applications are still pending, but the 55-day window in which they need to be processed has long since passed. The reason cited by the DoL for rejecting the application is the usual one that there is less than 20 per cent of workforce mentioned as the proposed membership, even though that is incorrect.
Regarding the labour inspection and enforcement priority area, the report mentions the online database which was created to track the complaints filed. Affiliates inform us that the online database is poorly maintained. Often the complaints which are filed in person directly with the Department for Inspection of Factories and Establishments (DIFE) office do not get uploaded on the database thereby making it impossible to track the progress of the complaint resolution process online.
The report also mentions the inauguration of the BEPZA (Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority) helpline on 28 March 2023, to strengthen the grievance redressal mechanisms for workers employed in the Export Processing Zones (EPZ). According to IndustriALL’s affiliates, EPZ workers are unaware of the helpline. It appears that the government has made no efforts to raise awareness regarding this.
With regard to addressing acts of anti-union discrimination/ unfair labour practices and violence against workers , the report highlights regular dissemination of information on labour rights to workers by DoL officials during trade unions’ general meetings. However, affiliates shared that DoL officials come only on days when the factory based unions have elections.
The report also highlights rapid investigation of alleged cases of violence and harassment by the police against workers. However, the case filed by the industrial police against sixteen members of one of IndustriALL’s affiliate in the context of organising in a factory, has been pending since June 2020, and the report does not mention this. Recently, organisers of IndustriALL’s affiliates were killed for protesting violations of workers’ rights.
The online database of the cases/complaints on unfair labour practices and anti-union discrimination is poorly maintained. The database is not updated and does not reflect the full record of the proceedings as mentioned in the report.
It is clear that the bi-annual reports of the GoB on the implementation of the roadmap are not based on facts. IndustriALL calls on the GoB to engage in good faith discussions with unions and implement the Roadmap in a serious spirit.
Photo: ILO Flickr