THE cabinet approved a draft law on July 7, which once enacted, will pave the way for workers to form unions in the country's Export Processing Zones (EPZ). This has long been a pressing demand by the United States and is thought to be one of primary reasons why Bangladesh lost its trade benefits under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) back in June, 2013. Regardless of the US position, we should have done it of our own volition than under pressure because it involved workers' right to have a bargaining agent which can take up labour issues with management.
The draft law requires 30 per cent workers in a factory to apply for registering an association. The current law, i.e. EPZ Workers' Association and Industrial Relations Act 2009 effectively barred workers from forming unions. We believe that the labour law reform that the government has undertaken since 2013 are going to bear fruit and workers in the EPZs who have till now had no recourse to voicing their grievances will benefit from the latest move.
EPZs should not be treated as islands in an oasis where workers are deprived of right to unionism. The right to having collective bargaining agents is a universal right and we believe that the proposed law, which has been prepared in consultation with all the stakeholders including the owners of industries in the EPZs will only help address issues most important to workers viz. wages, working environment, protection of their health and rights of compensation in case of injury.