EU spurs Bangladesh to do more for factory safety
Bangladesh has significantly improved the workplace safety standards and labour rights in the last one year, but still a lot to do, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said.
The comment came at a time when the Sustainability Compact, which Bangladesh signed with the European Union involving the International Labour Organisation (ILO), completed its first anniversary yesterday.
Under the agreement, Bang-ladesh is committed to improve safety standards and labour rights, and the EU will observe the progress of the commitments for one year before taking any trade action against Bangladesh.
The US also joined the Sustainability Compact later.
Bangladesh should enact the regulations on labour reforms and take steps to extend the improved labour rights to the export processing zones, De Gucht said in Paris on June 26.
“Bangladesh's labour law still needs to address restrictions on trade union formation and membership, no later than in the next iteration of the labour law reform,” De Gucht said.
After the Rana Plaza collapse, Bangladesh amended the labour law of 2006 allowing full freedom of association by the workers on July 15 last year.
But the labour ministry is yet to formulate the regulations to implement the law at the field level.
De Gucht also urged Bangladesh to accelerate the recruitment of additional labour inspectors as the processed has slowed down due to some bureaucratic tangles.
The labour ministry could only recruit 25 out of 200 additional inspectors so far, although the process started nearly a year ago.
“All the enabling conditions must be in place, not only in law but in practice, for workers to organise into trade unions and make their voice heard at the factory level,” Gucht said.
“Inspections must be followed by structural improvements to improve safety. Bangladeshi industry has a key role to play here. And there is still much for retailers and importers to do.”
Bangladesh has amended its labour law improving the labour rights, De Gucht said.
“It has also upgraded its system for inspecting factory safety and begun the recruitment process of hundreds of new inspectors,” he said.
“Inspections have started and their results are being made public. Many new unions have registered and workers are starting to organise.”
He said the EU has extended a fund of 16 million euros to promote ILO's Better Work and Standards Programme in Bangladesh.
He also said the EU has also started a 15 million-euro Technical and Vocational Education and Training Programme that also helps in rehabilitating some of the victims of Rana Plaza collapse.
A high-powered EU delegation will come to Bangladesh in August to review the progresses that Bangladesh made under the sustainability compact, Shawkat Ali Waresi, a joint secretary to the commerce ministry, told The Daily Star.
In 2013, Bangladesh exported goods worth 9 billion euros to the EU, the country's largest export destination, according to the EU statement.
After the Rana Plaza tragedy, Bangladesh and the world had no choice but to act to improve workers' rights, safety and working conditions in the country's garment industry, US Ambassador Dan Mozena said in a statement yesterday on the first anniversary of the Compact.
The United States provided Bangladesh with an action plan, a series of concrete steps that, if addressed, could serve as a basis for the Obama administration to consider reinstating the GSP benefits, Mozena said.
“We recognised that the task of improving working conditions and respect for workers' rights in Bangladesh was daunting, difficult, and time-consuming, but we also believed it was achievable, especially if we worked together.”
“In sum, all parties should continue to support the commitments of the government of Bangladesh, the ILO, the European Union and the United States as reiterated in the Compact.”