Labour rights situation: Bangladesh listed among 10 worst countries

Photo: Sk Enamul Haq

Bangladesh is one of the world's 10 worst countries for workers, according to the Global Rights Index 2022 of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

The other nine countries are Belarus, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Eswatini, Guatemala, Myanmar, The Philippines and Turkey.

The report, published on June 26 and based on a survey on 148 countries, looked at the workers' right to strike, to establish and join trade unions, arbitrary arrests and the right to justice. Violations are recorded from April to March each year.

The report said workers' rights in Bangladesh continued to be severely curtailed.

In the garment sector, which employs more than 4.5 million workers, attempts at forming unions were relentlessly obstructed, while strikes were met with extreme brutality.

Industrial police fired live rounds and used batons and tear gas to disperse workers during strikes.

In 2021 alone, at least six workers were shot and killed by the police during strikes while many others were gravely injured.

On June 13 of that year, many garment workers were injured following a police crackdown on strikes at Lenny Fashions and Lenny Apparels in the Dhaka export processing zone (DEPZ) in Ashulia.

The workers were demanding their wages after the factory's closure.

Over 6,000 workers lost their jobs when Lenny Fashion and Lenny Apparels closed on January 20, 2021. Management had said it would pay due wages by May, but the company never fulfilled its commitment, ITUC said.

A planned meeting on September 24, 2021, in Chattogram to form a regional committee of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC) was stopped following a phone call from the police.

On August 6, 2021, the Bangladeshi Industrial Police filed a criminal case against 25 union leaders and members in relation to incidents at Crossline Factory (Pvt) Ltd and Crossline Knit Fabrics Ltd.

The factory management also filed a criminal case against its workers for forming two unions.

In the garment sector, over 500,000 workers employed in export processing zones (EPZs) were not allowed to form or join unions, which left them without any power to bargain for better working conditions.

ITUC said the situation worsened with the implementation of the Export Processing Zones Labour Act (ELA) 2019, which states that workers can only be a part of a workers' welfare association where they may not be given the full scope of collective bargaining.

It is strictly prohibited for them to organise any protest within the EPZ, where demonstrations are often met with violent retaliation from the authorities, the ITUC report said.

According to the index, workers in 113 of the 148 surveyed countries have been denied the right to form or join trade unions, while 74 percent (of the 148) have blocked the registration process of unions.

In a climate of increasing levels of violence and attacks on workers, the number of countries which expose workers to physical violence increased from 45 in 2021 to 50 in 2022.

The Asia-Pacific region saw a significant rise in the number of countries where workers faced violence.

The number rose from 35 percent in 2021 to 43 percent this year.

In Europe, the number of countries where workers faced violence doubled from 12 percent in 2021 to 26 percent in 2022.

Sharan Burrow, general secretary of ITUC, said it will take a new social contract with jobs, rights, social protection, just wages, equality and inclusion, to rebuild the trust that has been shattered by repressive governments and abusive companies.

"Where there are challenges to monopoly power, or human and labour rights violations, unions are there. Without unions, there will be no just transition in the face of climate and technological change," she said in a forward.


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