The draft of the amended labour law as per recommendations of the International Labour Conference (ILC) is expected to be passed in the September session of the parliament.
The ILC is an annual general meeting of the ILO held at its Geneva headquarters where the labour conditions of the member countries are widely discussed.
The amendment was first supposed to come around November last year and then postponed to January. It again got stalled as the factory owners, union leaders and international stakeholders could not reach a consensus over different issues.
For instance, union leaders wanted to bring down the percentage of workers’ participation required for forming trade unions at factories to around 10-15 percent but accepted 20 percent following negotiations.
The draft of the amended labour law will be placed before the cabinet next week, said Mujibul Haque Chunnu, state minister for labour and employment.
“This time we are reducing the workers’ threshold to 20 percent from the existing 30 percent for the trade unions,” Chunnu told The Daily Star over phone.
Union leaders said it was difficult to gather signatures of 30 percent of a factory’s workers, primarily over fears of being in the owners’ bad books.
This prompted local and international rights groups like International Labour Organisation (ILO), the European Union and the United States to continue putting pressure on the government for reviewing the labour law.
Regarding reforms in the law centring export processing zones, Chunnu declined to comment, saying the zones were under the Prime Minister’s Office and that office would monitor relevant amendments if there were any.
Chunnu held a tripartite committee meeting in Dhaka on Sunday as part of the amendment process.
After the meeting, Wajedul Islam Khan, general secretary of Bangladesh Trade Union Kendra, said if the amendment was not made on time, the country next year may face trade privilege suspensions or criticisms in a post-ILC report.
The report of 2016 contained a special paragraph mentioning Bangladesh’s poor labour rights conditions and four ILO suggestions -- amendment to the labour law relating to full freedom of association, freedom of association by the EPZ workers, investigation into anti-union discrimination and simplification of union registration.
The ILO adopted this paragraph based on observations of an ILO expert committee which visited Bangladesh several times in the last two years.
“So it is important for the country to amend the labour law as per the commitment made by Bangladesh in the ILC this year,” Khan said.
Apart from the 20 percent threshold, discussions on maternity leaves for garment workers also came up in the meeting. Currently, factories are not obliged to provide maternity leaves to garment workers, he said.
However, it is a common practice for garment workers to enjoy four months’ maternity leave but factory managements are not legally bound to pay salaries for that period although government employees enjoy six months’ leave with pay, he said.
Two kinds of provisions for the same issue cannot be in place in the country, he said, adding, “We want maternity leave for private and public employees to be the same.”
Roy Ramesh, a committee member and secretary general of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council, also echoed Khan’s views.
Tuomo Poutiainen, ILO country director in Bangladesh, said, “The ILO has welcomed the government’s initiative to review Bangladesh Labour Act and the draft EPZ Labour Act.”
However, the Committee of Experts at the ILC observed that the proposed amendments do not address some of their long-standing concerns, he said.
“We believe that the government is working on these issues and will take necessary measures to amend the laws in consultation with the social partners.”
On the issue of working conditions and industrial safety, Poutiainen said there has been real progress in the garment sector in the past 3 to 4 years. “Initial capacities of the labour inspectorate and the Remediation Coordination Cell have been established for oversight of industrial safety. More needs to be done to make these capacities sustainable.”