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OP-ED: Ship recycling industry and legal instruments in Bangladesh

  • Published at 12:19 am June 30th, 2021
ship breaking recylcing
Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Despite the vast progress of the industry and its grave effects, there was no legal framework for a long period of time

For Bangladesh, shipbreaking is one of its most potential industries, which began its journey in the 1960s.

Shipbreaking is the process of disposing of end-of-life vessels which can bring economic benefit and environmental welfare by providing employment opportunities and enabling ship recycling.

Now, Bangladesh is considered as one of the leading countries in shipbreaking directed by national and international laws.

It is contributing about $2 billion to the national economy.

The steel industries are using 39% of their materials which comes from the ship breaking sector.

According to a survey more than 50,000 people are directly and indirectly involved with the activities of this sector. Because of appropriate weather, supply of cheap labour, and lax environmental regulations, this industry has dramatically expanded in the coastal area.

In the shipbreaking industry, there are many issues such as environmental, safety, health issues and structural complexity of the ships involved.

Despite the vast progress of the industry and its grave effects, there was no legal framework for a long period of time.

The Labour Act, 2006, considered as a core labour legislation, has few applied implication in shipbreaking yards.

Even in 2010 there was a temporary shutdown of all shipbreaking activities due to the legal fight between the environmentalist group and shipbreaking association.

Afterwards the government adopted the Ship Breaking and Recycling Rules, 2011 nevertheless during the tenure of 2011 to 2018 there was no ship breaking legislation.

Eventually in 2018 the government took initiative and passed Bangladesh Ship Recycling Act, 2018.

The formation of separate zones for the ship-breaking industry has been growing randomly along the coastline in different shipyards provided in the act.

Workers safety and security has been taken care of in the act.

Also, mandatory life insurance for workers, minimum wages, working hours and the formation of Bangladesh Ship Reprocessing Board are the significant features of the act.

Provisions to punish individuals or organizations which violate its provisions have also been included.

The Ship Recycling Board established under Ship Breaking and Recycling Rules, 2011 was assigned numerous powers which created many inconsistent situations.

Persisting problems

But section 8 of the Ship Recycling Act, 2018 describes the formation of a board with lesser but operative jurisdictional outreach.

Even guaranteed the representative of every possible stakeholders i.e. government representatives, yard owner agents and worker's representatives who can express their concerns and interest.

The provision of mandatory life insurance provision will protect the worker and will safeguard the future of their family. The owners of the shipyard will pay the premium of life insurance.

In spite of having existing laws in Bangladesh to protect workers and the environment, the poor enforcement makes it less effective.

There is no checking before end-of-life ships.

The claim of offshore companies that their ships are safe for breaking, are accepted without any investigation.

As a result hazardous chemicals are not removed or noticed, and create environmental pollution. 

The waste, chemicals, oil and other harmful elements of the ship reprocessing creates environmental pollution.

According to the World Bank, Bangladesh will import 79.000 tons of asbestos, 240.000 tons of PCBs and 69.200 tons of toxic paints between 2010 and 2030 that will originate from end-of-life ships.

Ship breaking industry has the highest probability of risk than other industries.

Between 2005 and 2016, at least 165 workers were killed and more than 10,000 were injured in accidents in such yards.

The reason for death and injury at the shipbreaking yards are many, such as- suffocation, explosions, falling from height and crushing due to falling parts of the ship.

Through the act, workers safety, security, and mandatory life insurance are ensured, but injured workers do not automatically receive financial support for necessary medical treatment.

Even the workers work long hours without holidays, and trade unions are prevented from operating.

There is also an absence of providing personal safety measures to the workers, as well as no unique provision for female workers in the act. 

The main concern is the inconsistency in case of Board between Ship Breaking and Recycling Rules, 2011 and Bangladesh Ship Recycling Act, 2018.

The Ship Building and Ship Recycling Board (SBSRB), established under the rule, has legal existence simultaneously with Bangladesh Ship Reprocessing Board (BSRB) which creates a clear imbalance between two boards.

Recommendations

The Ship Recycling Act, 2018 needs to be supported by a strong and inclusive policy, which will make up for the flaws and loopholes of the act, and thereby will strengthen the whole legal regime on ship recycling.

First, the existing laws should be implemented properly.

The government should immediately establish an appropriate authorization and inspection system with the aim of ensuring the proper management of hazardous materials, environmental conservation and reporting procedures.

Second, minimum standards of environmental, health and safety should be ensured, along with compliance of international standards and requirements need to be made effective.

Third, a training session for the workers should be arranged by the board and the yard owners.

The mandatory life insurance provision for workers in section 20 of the act should be implemented strictly.

Fourth, provision for female workers needs to be introduced. Also wage board, provident funds, child labour and right to form and participate in trade union in ship breaking industries need to be included.

Fifth, there should be proper checking before end-of-life ships, so that hazardous chemicals of the ships do not create any harm to the environment and workers.

Undoubtedly, the ship recycling legislation is one of the most important legislation of recent times.

The amendment of certain provisions of the act and by adding some active provisions will increase the security of the workers and can ensure a profitable shipbreaking industry.

 

The author is a student of the Department of Law at North South University

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