Trade unionism, better pay ignored in amended labour law
Kamran Reza Chowdhury

Parliamentary watchdog sets recommendations without accommodating foreign diplomats’ suggestions

  • Notice hung at the gate of an Ashulia factory reads that factories will remain close for an indefinite period according to a decision of BGMEA  
    Photo- Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

A parliamentary body has finalised recommendations on the proposed Labour (amendment) Bill 2013 without accommodating foreign diplomats’ suggestions for ensuring better working condition and rights of workers to unionise.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on labour and employment ministry in its Thursday’s meeting, presided over by its Chairman Israfil Alam, settled the recommendations for the proposed bill.

The meeting follows a three-day public hearing held on June 13, 15 and 16 in which a number of foreign diplomats suggested that the amended bill should contain provisions for ensuring better working conditions and payments, including compensations, for readymade garment factory workers and their rights to form unions.

The garment factory owners who also attended the public hearing, opposed the suggestions for allowing workers to unionise.

State Minister for Labour Monnuzan Sufian told the Dhaka Tribune that the bill “would be passed in the current session of the Jatiya Sansgad.”

According to existing rules, the assembly can change any provision of the bill before enactment.

The papers that the Dhaka Tribune accessed showed that the recommendations included some clerical changes but the contents had been left largely unchanged.

The standing committee has proposed that the government should enjoy the right to decide whether the companies would donate 5% share of their profits for the welfare of the workers.

The original bill contained a sub-clause which had said fully export oriented factories would be exempted from donating the share of profit – a provision the workers had vehemently opposed in different forums.

“The labour law does not debar trade unionism in the RMG units. If the owners agree, the workers can form trade unions,” said Monnuzan Sufian.

On June 5, Labour Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju tabled the Labour (amendment) Bill 2013 for amending the parent law Labour Act 2013.

The amendment proposal also included a section stipulating that no owner could change the structural design and the factory layout plan without prior permission from the authorities.

The issue of promulgating a more befitting labour law came to the forefront after the two back to back industrial disasters – the November 2012 Tazreen Fashions blaze that killed 117 and the April 2013 Rana Plaza collapse that claimed over a thousand lives.

Investigations have revealed that in both the cases, workers were forced to work in factory buildings that were not compliant in terms of either fire safety or building codes.

While some foreign buyers initiated monetary help for the victims, others have threatened to cancel work orders for Bangladeshi RMG units unless the factories got more compliant.

Bangladesh’s bid for attaining Generalised System of Preferences facility for textile products in the US market has also been jeopardised by the two industrial tragedies.

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