Govt getting ready to reply to USTR queries | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 12, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 12, 2007

Workers' Rights in Bangladesh

Govt getting ready to reply to USTR queries

Government is now preparing to fill in a questionnaire on Bangladesh workers' rights situation as desired by the United States Trade Representative (USTR) with a view to clearing a misconception arisen after a number of complaints lodged by a US rights group.
The USTR arranged a public hearing in Washington on October 4 about the allegation made by American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisation (AFL-CIO).
Afterwards, the US government trade body had asked the Bangladesh government to answer their set of questions clarifying the actual state of labour rights in the country.
"The main objective of the USTR's hearing against Bangladesh is to enforce labour compliance properly. They have no intention to harm Bangladesh's export market and economy," Feroz Ahmed, commerce secretary, told an inter-ministerial meeting yesterday at the ministry, which was organised in response to the USTR's questionnaire sent to Dhaka.
Representatives from Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, Bangladesh Frozen Food Exporters Association and Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority and the ministries of fisheries and livestock and labour and employment attended the meeting.
Following the meeting, the commerce secretary informed reporters that all the stakeholders have been asked to reply by October 16 to the questions raised by the USTR during the Washington hearing.
A representative who attended the meeting said Bangladesh will explain to the USTR that child labour is almost impossible in the country as the current primary education enrolment is about 99 percent.
Parikshit Dutta, a joint secretary to the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, has been assigned to coordinate the compilation of all replies to the USTR questions.
According to the meeting sources, the USTR also wanted to know how does Bangladesh's on-going anti-corruption drive affect trade unionism there.
"How long the state of emergency will continue," it questioned.
Besides, the USTR sought an explanation from the government why Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (Bepza) had extended the timeframe to 2010 from 2008 for liberalising the workers' union activities.
It also expressed its serious concern at non- implementation of the tripartite agreement on RMG ( readymade garments) workers' minimum wages.
"The AFL-CIO petition indicates that the 12-point Tripartite Agreement on the RMG sector is not being followed. There are allegations that some of the Bangladesh apparel industries are not only paying minimum wage, but also not paying arear wages. Please help us understand the current situation," the USTR said in its questionnaire.
During yesterday's meeting at the commerce ministry, such a hope was expressed from the government side that all information gap about the recent developments in Bangladesh labour compliance issue would no longer exist when the USTR gets Bangladesh's clarification and no action would be taken against Bangladesh.
The AFL-CIO made four complaints in its petition. These include violation of domestic and internationally recognised workers' rights in the EPZs in Bangladesh, violation of domestic labour laws and internationally recognised labour standards in RMG industry, similar violations in shrimp and fish processing industries, and violent actions by government security forces against trade unionists, workers and labour rights groups.

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