Allow trade unions at RMG factories
Participants are seen at a discussion between a government panel on the garment sector and the leaders of garment sector-based rights bodies at the conference room of Bangladesh Jute Research Institute in Dhaka yesterday. The two-member government panel organised the discussion. Photo: Star
Labour leaders yesterday called for trade unions at all garment factories to give the workers a platform to ensure their rights and save the sector from perennial unrest.
They also said there is no alternative to trade unionism to comply with the convention of the International Labour Organisation.
Their pleas came at a meeting between a government panel on the garment sector and the leaders of various rights groups at the conference room of Bangladesh Jute Research Institute in Dhaka.
The panel organised the discussion to hear concerns and suggestions from the workers and labour rights groups about the sector and a new labour law.
The committee was formed following the recent visit of a high-profile ILO team to Dhaka as the mission called for immediate steps to improve labour standards and working condition at the garment factories.
The panel headed by the textiles minister has already started inspecting factories for structural flaws and will recommend steps.
Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan backed the demand for trade unions, saying: "Owners will not face any loss if trade unionism is allowed."
The minister also called for coordination among various workers' bodies.
The workers will have to assure the owners that if trade unions are allowed the factories will run properly, he said, adding that the government would soon pass the amended labour law.
Shirin Akhter, a labour rights activist, said achieving a congenial work environment and ensuring decent life for workers should be the ultimate goal.
“The entire world is looking at Bangladesh. The government will have to give the workers the right to bargain."
"The Savar tragedy is a wake-up call," she said.
Shamima Nasreen, president of Swadhin Bangla Workers and Employees Federation, said the ongoing unrest in the sector is the result of the absence of trade unions.
The workers associations also called for introducing six-month maternity leave for garment workers, as enjoyed by workers and employees in government and non-government organisations.
They also urged the government to include a provision that makes it mandatory for the garment factory owners to share 5 percent of their profits with the workers.
The labour rights activists said the workers should be given appointment letters and identification cards.
Sirajul Islam Rony, president of Bangladesh National Garment Workers Employees League, said the new labour law should ensure the provident fund benefit for the workers.
"It will not be acceptable if workers are denied any financial benefit at the end of their service."
Jahanara Begum, president of Bangladesh Garment Workers Federation, said the sector has thrived on huge irregularities.
The owners have ignored the labour laws for making hefty profits, she added.
"Now the government will have to ensure full compliance and tell them clearly that if they want to do business they will have to follow the rules completely," she said.
The sector risks losing its business because of the greed of some owners, she added.
Mainuddin Mondol, general secretary of Bangladesh Combined Garment Workers Federation, said: "It remains to be seen how many factory owners comply with the labour laws. There are 5,500 factories in Bangladesh, but I wonder whether any of them properly follows the rules."
He also urged the minister to pay attention to labour courts, which, he said take too much time to settle cases.
Delawar Hossain, president of National Garment Workers and Employees Federation, urged the government to set up a wage board soon.
Salim Ahsan Khan, a lawyer of the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, raised objections about a number of clauses in the amended labour law approved by the cabinet recently.
Some of the clauses have curtailed workers' economic benefits, he said.
Montu Ghosh, a rights activist and an advocate of the Supreme Court, said time has come to review the wages of the workers as the prices of essentials have gone too high in the last couple of years.
He also said workers are also terminated whenever they voice any concerns or demand anything.
"The government will have to give a message that this unilateral decision will not be allowed," he said.
The leaders also urged the government to introduce full food rationing and set up dormitories for workers.
Mikail Shipar, the labour secretary, said: "We have to go for industrial building code to set up safe factories."
Abdul Latif Siddique, the textiles and jute minister, also spoke.