The government cannot approve trade unionism in industrial sectors because of pressure from influential quarters and workers’ ignorance, former state minister for labour and employment Md Mujibul Haque Chunnu said yesterday.
Thereby the main purposes for forming trade unions in industrial sectors mostly remain underserved, he told a national seminar on “analysing the role of different authorities in industrial dispute settlement and developing comprehensive recommendations”.
The Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies organised the seminar at The Daily Star Centre in Dhaka where representatives of factory owners, union leaders, experts and academicians were present.
Chunnu cited the instance of a massive labour unrest breaking out at the industry-dense Ashulia in December 2016 demanding Tk 16,000 as minimum monthly salary, which caused many units to remain close for nearly a month.
Interestingly enough, workers of factories which had unions did not take to the streets, demonstrate or carry out vandalism, he said.
Sharing his experience, he said while serving as a state minister, a garment factory owner put pressure on him in such a manner that he was forced to cancel the permission allowing registration of a factory’s trade union.
Meanwhile, hundreds of applications submitted to the labour ministry by labour leaders for obtaining permissions for unionism were rejected for being faulty or incomplete, said Chunnu.
The workers do not know how to seek permission for unionism properly, he said, adding that sometimes union leaders of factories, abusing power facilitated by unions, enjoy different benefits from factory owners.
Sometimes, the union leaders lobby with the labour department to obtain permissions for forming unions only to take benefit of their leadership instead of taking up a regular job, he said.
In his speech, Chunnu also said a former union leader who had turned into a parliament member had requested him not to allow trade unionism in a factory owned by that lawmaker’s son-in-law.
However, the same person had requested for permission for unions while serving as a leader, he said. Chunnu told all these while replying to a comment of Babul Akter, president of Bangladesh Garment Industrial Workers Federation.
Akter said he had applied to the government for forming 12 unions but got approval for only one in one year. While he blamed bribes and other corrupt practices for the hampering of the process of obtaining the registration, Chunnu said influence of a quarter of factory owners and ignorance of workers about unionism are responsible.
Kamran T Rahman, Bangladesh Employers’ Federation (BEF), suggested the union leaders and workers not to address employers as owners as such relationship does not help resolve disputes.
Actually, it should be a relationship between employers and employees, he said.
The BEF also wants trade unions to be allowed in factories but misuse of unionism sometimes hamper a lot of progress, leading to misunderstanding and a lack of trust between employers and employees, he said.
Prof Monirul I Khan of Dhaka University’s sociology department presented a keynote paper on the issue.