Labour bill put on the shelf
In an almost unheard-of move, President Mohammed Shahabuddin has sent a labour law amendment back to parliament for reconsideration, expressing concern over the proposed punishment of workers for wrongdoings.
The president objected to a provision in the Bangladesh Labour (amendment) Bill, 2023, that increased four times the penalty for workers involved in "unfair labour practices". The president's consent is mandatory for a bill to become a law.
The move comes right after garment workers staged protests for weeks demanding better minimum pay and a new US presidential memorandum threatening sanctions for labour rights violations.
According to the law, unfair labour practices include conducting trade union activities during work hours, forcing workers to join trade unions, destruction of factory property, holding "illegal" strikes or coercing employers to accept demands by intimidation.
Section 54 of the bill proposed increasing the fine for the above to Tk 20,000 from Tk 5,000.
"It appears that Section 54 of the bill will lead to confusion. Therefore, it is necessary to reconsider this section," said the president's note for the bill.
A senior official at the Jatiya Sangsad told The Daily Star that since parliament is not in session and as there is no possibility of holding any session before the formation of a new government.
"The new government will have to place a bill before the 12th parliament… ," the official said wishing anonymity.
Prior to this, a bill was last sent back in 1998 when Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed was president.
According to the law, all bills passed by parliament must be presented before the president who will either consent to it or reject it within 15 days. If the bill is passed again, after his rejection, and is sent back to the president, he has seven days to give consent.
The bill was passed in parliament on November 2 and the president signed his note on November 20.
Rights leaders alleged their consent was not taken before the bill was placed in parliament, even though discussions among all stakeholders had been on since 2021.
A Tripartite Labour Law Review Committee, comprised of worker representatives, owners and the government, had been working on this as per a roadmap set out by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Soon after the amendments were passed in parliament, the US introduced a new presidential memorandum that threatened sanctions against labour rights violations.
After a meeting yesterday, Senior Commerce Secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh told reporters at his ministry that Bangladesh would write to the US government soon about working-condition improvements and steps taken to enhance labour rights.
The commerce ministry is preparing to apprise the US trade representative as the Bangladesh mission in Washington last week wrote to the ministry saying that Bangladesh could be hit with trade sanctions, he said.
"There is no reason for the US government to impose trade restrictions on Bangladesh," Ghosh said.
The commerce ministry will present the progress made in labour rights at a special meeting of the Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement (TICFA) and in the meeting of the ILO governing body to be held in March next year, Ghosh said.
The senior secretary said that he plans to hold a meeting with three secretaries, five diplomats, and an ILO official this month to tell them about the progress made.
The US wants trade unions in factories inside export processing zones.
Ghosh assured that Bangladesh's labour law would be up to standard by 2026. Over the last 10 years, the labour law has been amended three times, he said.