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The right to form trade union? Not in RMG

  • Published at 02:53 pm August 27th, 2013
The right to form trade union? Not in RMG

Garment workers are being dismissed from their jobs as their efforts to form trade unions, a right assured by the law, are being noticed by factory owners, labour organisation leaders allege.

“Dozens of workers have already lost their jobs or faced suspension as they tried to form trade unions,” Sirajul Islam Rony, president of Bangladesh National Garment Workers Employees League, told the Dhaka Tribune on August 27.

“Today [Monday] at Star Garments Private Ltd, eight workers have been suspended soon after taking an initiative to form a trade union, and at Weltex garments 12 to 13 workers have been forced to resign,” he said.

The incidents are taking place in many factories such as Gazipur Eagle Eyes Design Ltd and Rumana Fashion Ltd, according to Acting General Secretary of Bangladesh Mukto Sramik Federation Rashidul Islam Raju.

“During the registration time for forming trade unions, many workers have faced harassment, which is a clear violation of the newly amended labour law,” he said.

“We feel insecure and face intimidation,” he said, urging the government to monitor the situation sincerely.

However, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Associations (BGMEA) Vice-President SM Mannan Kochi said such incidents are not acceptable as the law allows workers to form trade unions. “We will look into the matter.”

The government last month allowed the country’s 4m garment workers to form trade unions without prior permission from the factory owners, a major concession to campaigners lobbying for widespread reforms to the industry following the world’s worst industrial accident in the history of garments industry at Rana Plaza, which killed more than 1,100 people.

Kalpana Akter, a leader of the Bangladesh Centre for Workers' Solidarity, criticised such incidents saying the law still fall short in protecting the workers from harassment by the factory owners.

“The bureaucratic process to form trade unions is lengthy and cumbersome. That’s why workers fail to form unions out of fear of losing jobs,” she said.

Assistant Executive Director of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) Syed Sultan Ahmed said whenever any worker goes to form a union, they lose their job.

“This should be addressed immediately to protect worker rights by taking exemplary action against the errant owners and the sacked workers should be given back their jobs,” he said.

He referred to issues like the 30% workers’ representation required to form trade unions, the scope of intimidation, and performance of participation committees apart from EPZ etc, which are still restrictions to the formation of unions.

“Taking advantage of this section of the law, an employer or owner can dismiss workers,” he said.

During a three-day visit in Dhaka that ended August 21, US Congressman Sander Levin also expressed his concern over the same issue. “Freedom to form trade unions is a must to ensure workers rights,” he said.

Earlier, Labour and Employment Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju said the requirement of 30% workers’ representation for setting up a trade union has been kept in the amended law to ensure discipline in trade unions in the ready-made garment sector.

Bangladesh government has been under pressure from the international community to improve safety standards and working conditions in factories following the Rana Plaza collapse and the Tazreen fire incident.

According to the Labour Force Survey 2010 by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, about 54.1m people over 15 years of age were employed and the Department of Labour officials claimed about 2.1m workers were members of unions.

Going by that account, only 3.88% workers out of the total workforce were members of the trade unions. Department of Labour officials also said there were 7,106 trade unions across the country.

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