The easing of trade union rules is a positive step that indicates the government's intention to improve working conditions of factory workers. The draft of the Bangladesh (Amendment) Act 2018, long overdue, has reduced the required participation of workers to form a trade union to 20 percent from 30 percent. Hopefully, this will allow more workers to form organisations that will truly represent their interests. In endorsing the spirit of trade unionism we would like to remind that trade unionism in Bangladesh has suffered setbacks over the years for various reasons and thus failed to deliver. In this regard the role of the trade union leaders is paramount; they must ensure that these bodies are not exploited by vested quarters to the detriment of both the workers and the industry.
The draft act makes maternity leave for workers mandatory with a substantial penalty on owners if they fail to give maternity leave to expectant mothers. The law also suggests the entitlement of festival bonuses, a central group insurance policy for export-oriented industries, a ten-hour working day, etc.
At the same time the draft law has also imposed strict punitive measures for misconduct on the part of both the owner and worker as well as total prohibition of child labour in factories. Here we must give a cautionary note that punitive measures should be applied after fair investigations so that there is no possibility of any miscarriage of justice. Also, the proposed fine of Tk 5,000 for anyone who employs child labour in a factory is hardly a deterrent and should be increased.
The amendments to the law were needed not because of extraneous reasons but because ensuring proper working conditions is the right thing to do. When workers' rights are ensured, employer-worker relations improve, productivity increases and the country, in general, benefits. We hope these amendments, once finalised, will not be just words on a document but be enforced by the government and will make a marked difference in the lives of our workers.