The government yesterday approved a draft of the Bangladesh Labour (Amendment) Act, 2018 to make it workers-friendly in line with the suggestion of the international communities.
Under the proposed law, workers' participation required to form trade unions at factories will be reduced to 20 percent from the existing 30 percent.
The draft also proposed finishing the registration process of a trade union by 55 days instead of 60.
Besides, it provides for mandatory maternity leave and ban on child labour in factories. It curtails discrepancy power of the director general of the labour department in cancelling registration of a trade union.
“The cabinet approved the draft law in its weekly cabinet meeting at Bangladesh Secretariat with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the chair,” Cabinet Secretary Md Shafiul Alam told a news briefing after the meeting.
“The amendments to the draft labour law have been proposed to make it suitable to the proposals of the International Labour Organisation to ensure labour-friendly atmosphere in every factory.”
Dhaka went to the International Labour Conference in Geneva, held from May 28 to June 8, with the draft of the amended labour law to satisfy the international community. The proposed law was accepted by the conference, according to labour ministry officials.
International bodies, including the ILO and European Union, and also the United States, have been demanding improved labour rights in Bangladesh for the last five years. Among their demands, workers' right to trade unionism was the foremost.
They observed that the last amended labour law adopted in July 2013 after the Rana Plaza building collapse, made it difficult to collect consent of 30 percent workers of a factory to form a trade union. Since then, they have been demanding the threshold be lowered.
The global community even threatened to cut the trade privileges Bangladesh enjoys, particularly in the European market, if the government fails to amend the labour law giving more rights to the workers.
Cabinet Secretary Shafiul Alam said the law proposed formation of a tripartite consultation committee (TCC) comprising workers, owners and government representatives to resolve any industrial dispute.
At the same time, he said, the draft incorporated tougher provisions to strictly prohibit misconduct on the part of owners and workers, reports BSS.
“A worker or owner would face one-year imprisonment or penalty of Taka 10,000 or both for any misconduct including violation of the law,” he added.
The draft proposed punitive actions for workers for acts like physical assault, issuing threat or mounting undue pressure to compel owners to sign any agreement, disrupting power, gas or water supplies, and unlawful shutdowns.
It said support of 51 percent workers would be required to enforce any work abstention or lock-out while it proposed reducing the jail term of a worker for taking part in any illegal lock-out to six months from one year.
The labour law was originally framed in 2006 to protect worker rights and increase productivity, which was radically amended in 2013.
The new draft proposed increased allowances and benefits and lessening punitive measures against the labourers. It also suggested that working hour of labourers in general should not be more than 10 hours a day excluding dining and rest time.
“However, the law kept provisions so the government can change the working time for specialised industries,” Shafiul Alam said.
According to the amended law, expectant mothers would be entitled to eight-week maternity leave and other benefits within three days of submission of necessary documents.
“An owner may face penalty of Taka 25,000 on charge of depriving an expectant mother of maternity leave,” he said, referring to the draft.
The law suggested that the labourers would get festival allowances as per the rules, and workers of the export-oriented and foreign exchange earning industries would enjoy the facilities from central group insurance policy.
At the same time, Shafiul said, the law prohibited engagement of children and physically challenged persons in any risky job.
Under the existing law, a child can do light work on condition that it would not be harmful to his health and his education won't be hampered. The draft seeks total ban on child labour in factories.
“Under the proposed law, no child will be allowed to work in factories. If anybody employs child workers, he or she will have to pay a fine of Tk 5,000,” said the cabinet secretary, reports UNB.
Every industrial unit having more than 25 workers must have arrangement of a dining and rest room with facilities of drinking water.
Workers, if they wish, can enjoy weekly holiday merging with festival holidays.
On any festival holiday, a worker can be asked to work in exchange of one-day alternative holiday and compensation allowances equivalent to wages of two days.
According to the draft law, the government would prepare a standard operating procedure (SOP) for registration of the labour organisations.
A labour organisation would apply for registration in specific form and the director general of the Labour Directorate would resolve the application within 55 days.
A worker of an industry can be a member of only one trade union, the proposed law said but suggested one month imprisonment for dual membership.
The draft also proposed elevated status of the government's inspection unit to be headed by a director general.
“Thus, the post of the labour inspector would be upgraded to inspector general, deputy director to additional inspector general, joint inspector to joint inspector general and assistant inspector to assistant inspector general,” the secretary said.
The position of the director of the Department of Labour would be elevated to the post of director general while other posts would be upgraded accordingly, the cabinet secretary said.