The Rana Plaza building collapse, Tazreen factory fire and subsequent efforts to provide compensation to victims highlighted the need for a national scheme to support employees and their families in event of accidents or injury at work. Andre Picard from the International Labour Organisation's social protection department talks about the development of such a scheme and what happens next. Steve Needham, senior communications officer, RMG Programme, ILO Bangladesh, took the interview.
What has been done so far?
It has been necessary to create a broad consensus among government, employers and workers organisations about the need for, and the feasibility of, a national Employment Injury Protection and Rehabilitation scheme. A preliminarily feasibility study was carried out during 2015 which showed it is affordable and that the legal framework can be adopted without huge changes. It further identified the steps needed over the short-term as well as over the next 3-5 years. This would see the introduction of an interim bridging solution as well as the development of a national scheme that is affordable and sustainable over time for all workers in Bangladesh.
There has been a lot of discussion with counterparts so that they are more familiar with the concept. The issue of costing and its effect on production costs charged to buyers are crucial elements for all parties. The international players have an indirect key role.
We are now launching a comprehensive 'establishment survey' that will take some months to complete and will give us hard data on the accident rate in industries including apparel, construction, retail, and services; economic sectors are representing 45 percent of national GDP. With this we can make credible costings for different benefit package options. In parallel with the study, we will discuss with stakeholders the kind of benefits they want to provide based on a minimum of what is in ILO's Employee Injury Benefits convention.
How much would it cost and who will pay?
This depends on the results of the survey. However, it is likely that the cost should not be more than around 1 percent of wages. Taking the garment sector as an example, at the minimum salary of Tk 5,300 a month the cost would therefore be no more than Tk 53 per employee per month. This is comparable with other countries in the region with similar schemes such as Cambodia (0.8 percent), Malaysia (1.25 percent) and Vietnam (1 percent). The cost would be borne mainly by employers although some small employee contribution is also being discussed by national counterparts.
How and when would the scheme start?
The idea is to start with the garment sector and then gradually expand to other industries. The idea would be to start with a pilot of 25-50 garment factories which are willing to participate. Realistically it may be 5-6 years before the full scheme is launched.
What happens in addition to the survey?
Legal considerations are being pursued and efforts made to process the necessary changes to allow the creation of a national institution responsible for the administration of the scheme. Institutional arrangements will have to be quickly put in place so operations can start as soon as possible. An institution with a tripartite governance structure is needed to manage the scheme. This will most likely be an existing institution to avoid lengthy delays in establishing something totally new. Building institutional capacity will then be the main challenge. It will be necessary to find the right people, hire and train them. Many other details also need to be considered including how to collect contributions, pay out benefits, carry out medical assessments and make periodical payments rather than lump sums and so on. In parallel, a bridging solution is under study so any victim of a work-accident is covered in case of an injury until the national scheme is fully operational.
Will the scheme be compulsory?
It would ultimately be a requirement for all industries and sectors.The scheme would be purely related to workplace accidents or workplace related illnesses. While it provides health benefits linked to such injuries, it differs from a general health insurance scheme that covers all types of illnesses from different sources.
Who is involved in this initiative?
The government of Bangladesh is working closely with ILO and Germany to establish the scheme. There is very close coordination and consultation with employer organisations as well as trade unions. Brands and other countries are also very interested in making a national Employment Injury Protection and Rehabilitation schemea reality for all workers in Bangladesh.