A long way to go, still
With less than three months to go for the final review by the Obama administration, the government is yet to fulfil many of the 16 conditions laid out to win back trade privileges to the US market.
The development comes as the commerce, labour and foreign secretaries are due to meet the chiefs of missions of the US, the EU, the Netherlands, the UK and Germany today at the foreign ministry in Dhaka to brief them on the progress made towards enhancement of labour rights and factory safety.
Foremost among the 16-point roadmap to get the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) status reinstated was the amendment to the labour law to address key concerns over freedom of association, collective bargaining and registration of trade unions in the garment sector.
While the government made the necessary amendments last July, it is yet to formulate the rules needed to implement the new law.
However, trade unions at garment factories are still able to obtain quick registrations. Between January last year and this year, more than 100 trade unions have been allowed.
The government is yet to put in place a mechanism though to make public the status and final outcomes of union registration applications of individual garment units, as stipulated in the action plan.
Moreover, there have been reports in recent weeks of termination of union leaders' employment contracts in some 16 garment factories.
The US administration had called for appointment of 200 factory inspectors by December last year. So far, 42 have been recruited, according to Mujibul Haque Chunnu, state minister for labour and employment.
The government, however, has started inspecting the 3,500-odd garment factories for structural building and fire safety, as per the action plan.
The Obama administration demanded punitive actions for violations of building and fire safety rules, but the government is yet to act in this regard.
The GSP roadmap also suggested creating a publicly accessible database of all garment factories, in which information relating to labour and fire and building inspections could be found.
Establishment of an effective complaint mechanism through which workers can report on violations of fire and building safety and labour rights confidentially was recommended, together with setting up of more fire stations in garment factory dense areas and an independent and neutral factory inspection system.
None of these mechanisms are yet to be put in place, though.
However, the government has allowed re-registration of the NGOs -- Bangladesh Centre for Women Solidarity and Social Activities for the Environment -- and withdrawn cases against labour leaders Babul Akter and Kolpana Akter. But it has not been able to find the murderers of labour leader Aminul Islam, who was found dead in April 2012, although a notice was placed in the print media seeking information from the public about the culprits.
It has also started training the industrial police on labour laws and workers' rights, as asked by the Obama administration.
The US government also called for a separate law for workers inside the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) that permits them to hold demonstrations to realise their demands. So far, the government has only managed to form a committee in this regard.
Another requirement of the US government was safeguarding the interest of the workers in the shrimp sector. Any visible action in this connection is yet to be seen.
Alonzo Glenn Suson, country director of Solidarity Centre of American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisation (AFL-CIO) in Bangladesh, said too little progress has been made regarding the action plan, seven months on.
“Yes, the government has made some good progresses. The next step is the implementation. The progresses are just plans, not the implementation. As of today, it is not enough.”
Meanwhile, Eric Biel, acting associate deputy undersecretary for international affairs at the US Department of Labour, on Wednesday said the US government had already conveyed its dissatisfaction over the progress regarding the action plan.
“Bangladesh had not made sufficient progress to date under the action plan to warrant reinstatement of GSP benefits,” he added.
But Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed remains defiant that the government is adequately proceeding with the roadmap. “Bangladesh has made substantial progresses in fulfilling 13 of the 16 conditions tagged by the US authorities,” he said on Monday.
Yesterday, the minister said the government was working to fulfil all the 16 conditions for revival of the GSP facilities within March 30.
The government will then send a report to the GSP authority by April 15, said Tofail, who held an inter-ministerial meeting on the action plan, the ministry said in a statement.
“If the decision isn't taken on political grounds, we'll get back the GSP,” he told journalists after the meeting, reports UNB.