Trade union in EPZs gets nod
The cabinet yesterday finally gave the nod to the draft Bangladesh EPZ Labour Law 2016, with provisions for forming legal trade unions in factories inside of the Export Processing Zones (EPZ).
Allowing trade unions in factories was the last of the 16 conditions set by the US to be fulfilled by the Bangladesh government for regaining the GSP (Generalised System of Preferences) in the US market.
Bangladesh government has already submitted the progress report on the implementation of 16 conditions to the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the chief trade negotiation body for the US government, for reinstatement of the GSP privilege.
The GSP was suspended for Bangladesh in June, 2013, due to serious shortcomings in workplace safety and labour rights.
Apart from suspending the GSP benefit after the Rana Plaza building collapse, the US government gave the 16 conditions as “Bangladesh Action Plan”.
The government made delays in allowing unions in the EPZs, as the foreign investors were divided on the issue. Investors of some countries said the unions would hamper the production while others argued that the unions would establish labour rights.
If this draft, which amends EPZ Workers' Welfare and Industrial Relations Act, 2010, is passed by parliament and made into law, the Workers' Welfare Associations (WWA) in factories inside of the EPZs would act as the legal trade unions.
The workers' associations had no legal status earlier but the amendment would give them the legal status of the Collective Bargaining Agent in factories inside of the EPZs, said Nazma Binte Alamgir, general manager, public relations of the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA), the regulating body for the EPZs.
Under the new rules, 30 percent workers would have to ask the BEPZA, filling in a form, for the formation of the Workers' Welfare Associations, Nazma Alamgir said.
Once the BEPZA verifies the applications and allows the WWAs, there would be a referendum among the workers for holding a polls to elect WWA leaders. Workers would only be allowed to hold the polls after the referendum decides that the workers want a WWA.
However, Sirajul Islam Rony, a member of the minimum wage board for garment workers, said the amendment to the law would allow partial trade unionism in factories, not the full rights due to the provision for referendum.
“But, at the same time giving the legal status to the workers' welfare association as unions will also allow guaranteed benefits to the workers. The workers will enjoy all benefits if any factory is shut down for any reason,” he said.
“We want equal labour law for workers inside and outside of the EPZs in our country,” said Nazma Akter, president of Sammilito Garment Sramik Federation, a garment workers' platform. “I do not agree with many provisions in the amendment,” she said.
Currently, more than 4.40 lakh workers are employed in eight EPZs across the country with 453 factories in operation. A total of 121 factories are under construction there.
There is a $3.74 billion investment from home and abroad, Nazma Alamgir said, adding that the factories exported goods worth $6.11 billion in 2014-15 fiscal year.
The Bangladesh EPZ Labour Law, 2016, also has a provision for forming a permanent wage board for workers, said Cabinet Secretary M Shafiul Islam yesterday after the cabinet meeting held at the Secretariat with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the chair.
Briefing reporters, he said workers would get various advantages, including retirement benefits, mandatory group insurance, compensation in case of deaths, cash payment for earned leave, full salary as festival bonus, and maternity leave for 16 weeks.
He said the family members of a worker would get Tk 2 lakh compensation if he or she dies on duty and Tk 2.25 lakh for any worker for his or her permanent disabilities caused by accidents at work.
Shafiul said the labour organisations in EPZs would be named Sramik Kalyan Samity.
The cabinet secretary said the proposed law would ensure the right to joint wage bargaining for workers where their representatives would be able to bargain directly with the owners for fixing wages, working hours, appointments, and conditions for appointments and observing strikes.
“The law is going to be framed in light of the existing Labour Law 2006 and in line with the central bargaining agent (CBA) and trade union,” the cabinet secretary told reporters.
The executive chairman of BEPZA would act as the chief of the permanent wage board for fixing the minimum wages for workers. “The wage broad, if it deemed necessary, can reorganise the wages of the workers,” he added.
The government had earlier formed a committee to formulate a law in line with the Bangladesh Labour Law, 2006.
The draft law has a total of 16 chapters and 202 sections.