The apparel industry, which is the mainstay of the economy, will collapse if trade unions are politicised, the country's top garment leader warned yesterday.
Atiqul Islam, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said: “If the trade unions become politicised by the Awami League or BNP, the sector will be gone.”
The $22-billion industry has always been sceptical of the trade unions at factories, resisting formation of trade unions in the garment factories in the last three decades.
Things changed dramatically after the Tazreen Fire and Rana Plaza building collapse, as rights groups and development partners were unanimous that the deaths in the twin disasters could have been averted if there had been trade unions in those factories.
The global demand prompted the government to change the laws allowing workers to bargain for their rights in a major shift in the garment industry.
The number of registered trade unions stands at 323 today: many opened after the Rana Plaza disaster, according to the labour ministry.
“We have amended the labour law within 90 days after the Rana Plaza collapse, while the US took 26 years to do so,” he said, referring to the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City a century ago that catalysed major labour reforms in the United States.
Islam spoke at a seminar on “Detailed Structural Assessment for Building Facilities—Methodology and Procedure” organised by Bureau Veritas (Bangladesh) at Spectra Convention Centre in Dhaka.
He alleged that some quarters are sending information out of the country claiming Bangladesh has poor labour standards. “But they have not informed us about it.”
“We have more than four million garment workers. Some problems might happen. However, we are improving the situation by the day.”
In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza incident, a number of forums and brands undertook safety assessments in the garment sector, said Golam Kibria, country chief executive of Bureau Veritas Bangladesh, a global assessment and certification services provider.
The assessments looked at fire, electrical and building safety for structural integrity and stability.
“The assessments were done as a preliminary assessment, meaning they have not gone into a deep level of investigation of the conditions of the facilities,” Kibria said.
“A detailed structural assessment is needed to solve all the problems. A wrong assessment will lead to a wrong conclusion resulting in unsafe work conditions for the workers,” he said.
In Bangladesh, Bureau Veritas has executed preliminary structural assessments in about 600 factories.