Labour law changes are regressive
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the world's largest federation of trade unions, yesterday expressed deep concern over the proposed amendments to the labour law, terming them to be regressive.
The new amendments do not comply with even the most basic standards set out by the ILO, particularly when it comes to the main issue of workers' right to union, said the ITUC activists during their visit to Bangladesh.
“Labour reform requires tripartite involvement -- of labour, owners and government. But it is our view that the government didn't take into consideration workers' demands in formulating the amendments,” Wellington Chibebe, deputy general secretary of ITUC, told The Daily Star.
ITUC, which represents 175 million workers in 155 countries, criticised the stipulation of at least 30 percent representation of workers to form a union.
He said the imposition of minimum requirements is “obstacle” to freedom of association.
Referring to a new provision which states that a worker will not be a member of trade union of a factory if he/she loses job, Chibebe said, “If a trade union leader emerges as a threat to owners, the employer can simply fire him/her, thanks to this provision.”
Jeffrey Vogt, a legal adviser of ITUC, said the clause in the amendment which forbids people from outside of the factory assuming the position of union leader, go against ILO convention 89.
“Trade union leaders are not 'outsiders', rather people with knowledge and expertise who can push for workers rights with more vigour as they can't be fired by employers.”
“What is striking is that the proposed amendments do so little to comply with the ILO standards. None of the important concerns as far as workers rights are concerned has been addressed,” he said.
Vogt went so far as to say that the proposed amendments are detrimental to the workers, and in some aspects, “even worse than the 2006 law”.
“As long as the government continues to respect the wishes of capital, at the expense of the interests of workers and marginalised people in the country, it will be subcontracting its national responsibilities to businesses,” Chibebe said.
Owners and governments often say that “the industry is under threat” whenever workers demand labour reforms, he said. “But we cannot sacrifice our workers to save an industry -- we don't want employment at the cost of human lives.”
He also argued that, instead of waiting for large-scale incidents like the Rana Plaza collapse to highlight workers' plight and rights, the government and rights organisations should be more proactive. “It is counter-productive to always be reactionary.”
The whole world is watching the steps the government takes next over issues concerning worker rights and occupational safety, Chibebe said.
“Every concerned individual, labour leader and business hopes that its government will do the right thing and cease this opportunity to institute much needed changes to the labour law.”
The ITUC officials also condemned the withdrawal of existing facilities and benefits, like sharing five percent of profits with workers through the proposed amendments.
Chibebe also urged the prime minister to consider the workers' demands of maternity leave for six months.
The ITUC officials conveyed their concerns to the labour ministry and hope their recommendations would be taken into consideration before finalising the proposed amendments. “However, we have not received any concrete commitment from them yet.”