Labour minister lambasts ILO
Labour and Employment Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju yesterday slammed the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for its statement that Bangladesh's recently amended labour law falls short of international standards.
“Being a neutral body, the ILO cannot give such statement without holding discussions with the government, the ILO's local office or other labour organisations,” Raju said at a press conference at his secretariat office in the capital.
The minister wondered how the ILO could give such statement while the amended law awaits the president's approval.
“If necessary, we will write to the ILO to protest the statement,” he said.
The requirement of 30 percent workers' representation for setting up a trade union has been kept in the amended law to ensure discipline in trade unions in the ready-made garment sector, said the minister.
Bangladesh government has been under pressure from the international community to improve safety standards and working conditions in factories following the Rana Plaza collapse and the Tazreen fire incident.
In efforts to guarantee workers' rights, the government moved to amend the labour law, and the Bangladesh Labour (Amendment) Bill 2013 was passed in parliament on July 15 to allow full freedom to workers in running trade unions.
On July 22, the ILO released a statement expressing discontent over the limited scope for running trade unions and collective bargaining in the amended law.
It particularly raised objections to the requirement of 30 percent workers' representation for forming a trade union, and the government's failure to extend workers' freedom of association and collective bargaining in export processing zones.
“The amendments did not prohibit discrimination in employment or remuneration, as called for by the ILO supervisory system,” the ILO said in the statement.
The lapses make the amended law “several important steps” short of being in conformity with ratified international labour standards, it said, urging the government to address those “as a matter of urgency”.
Raju said, “We have brought about reforms in the labour law, taking into account the reality on the ground. We wanted to have a good labour law.”
When contacted, Gagan Rajbhandari, deputy director of ILO Dhaka office, declined to comment on the matter.
Speaking at the press conference, Labour and Employment Secretary Mikail Shipar echoed Raju's views, and said the Bangladesh ambassador in Geneva told him that the ILO didn't hold any discussions with the ambassador before issuing the statement.
“The ILO is our partner organisation but it gave the statement without consulting with us. The Bangladesh Embassy in Geneva conveyed to me that the ILO issued the statement under pressure,” said the secretary.
It is unlikely that there would be further changes in the amended law, said Shipar.
Asked whether the labour law reforms would help Bangladesh regain the GSP facility from the US, Shipar said the amendment to the labour law was not a pre-condition for reinstatement of the GSP facility.
However, in its action plan for Bangladesh to regain the GSP facility, the US government suggested that Bangladesh reform its labour law to address key concerns over workers' freedom of association and collective bargaining.
Fazlul Hoque, president of Bangladesh Employers' Federation, also spoke at the press conference.