The labour ministry has completed its investigation against the 16 garment factories that have allegedly fired their trade union leaders in recent weeks, violating labour laws.
The development comes a few weeks before the labour secretary along with commerce and foreign secretaries are due to meet with diplomats from the US, the EU, the Netherlands, the UK and Germany on February 13 to brief on progress made in labour rights in the country under the Sustainability Compact signed last year.
“We received the complaints against the factories only last week and we started the investigation right away,” said Mikail Shipar, labour secretary, while declining to name the factories involved. The Directorate of Labour is due to submit the report today.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association too acknowledged the violation of trade union rules by some of its members.
“Yes, we have also received at least four complaints from workers' leaders, who said they were terminated from their factories for unionism,” said Reaz-Bin-Mahmood, vice-president of the BGMEA.
Formation of trade unions has already been described in the amended labour law, so the workers have the full right for unionism, he said, adding that the garment manufacturers' platform is now investigating whether the factories are members of the BGMEA or not.
Roy Ramesh Chandra, general secretary of the local arm of IndustriALL, a global union federation, said the amended labour law has many loopholes.
The most glaring is the requirement of signatures of 30 percent workers for formation of trade unions. “In many factories workers are not interested in joining the unions as they fear losing their jobs,” he said, adding that only 5 percent of the workers are members of unions in Bangladesh.
Currently, the total number of trade unions in the garment sector is nearly 260, but they are divided and cannot raise their voices collectively to realise their demands.
Sirajul Islam Rony, a union leader, said everyday he is receiving complaints from workers of termination from their jobs for unionism. “The trade union rules violation is taking place mainly in the small factories, as they do not have bigger capacity.”
Following widespread pressure from the international community, the government amended the labour law to allow workers in garment factories the full freedom to associate, as demanded by the US, the EU and the International Labour Organisation among others.