Trade union holds key to labour rights
Analysts take part in a discussion on the RMG industry and national budget, co-organised by Bangladesh Garments Accessories and Packaging Manufacturers and Exporters Association and the Prothom Alo in Dhaka yesterday. Photo: Star
Trade union is a must to ensure labour rights and improve working conditions at garment factories, speakers said at a discussion yesterday.
They also stressed an in-depth study on the garment industry to get a clear picture of salary structure and lifestyles of workers, value addition of products, and profit and costing issues.
Trade union is also important to build up confidence and deepen the relationship between the owners and the workers, the discussants said.
Though trade unions are allowed in the sector, workers cannot practise the right due to legal complexities, the speakers said.
They also urged the government to ease the procedure of forming trade unions.
They spoke at the roundtable on the garment industry and the national budget co-organised by Bangladesh Garments Accessories and Packaging Manufacturers and Exporters Association and the daily Prothom Alo at the newspaper's office in Dhaka.
“It is often believed that trade unions would create problems or hamper work environment. But this is not true,” Industries Minister Dilip Barua said.
He urged the owners to set a uniform rate for their exportable items.
“There are allegations that many owners bring work orders from international buyers at very low prices.”
He also called upon the opposition parties to keep the garment sector out of the purview of shutdowns.
Trade unions should be allowed to establish the workers' right to collective bargaining, Commerce Minister GM Quader said.
The garment industry is facing tremendous pressure over the workers' safety issues from both the national and international fronts after the Tazreen Fashions and Rana Plaza accidents, he said.
The industry needs massive reforms, Quader said, adding that the owners should relocate their units to other places where the safety issues can be ensured.
“If we fail to maintain the growth that we have achieved in the sector, competitors such as Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia will grab our markets,” he said.
MM Akash, a professor of economics at Dhaka University, urged the garment owners to create a 'welfare fund' for the workers by contributing 5 percent of their profits to the fund.
Fahmida Khatun, research director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said there is a huge discrepancy between the growth in the sector and the compliance issues.
“The sector improves, but the lifestyle of the workers doesn't,” she said.
Had their salaries been adjusted in line with inflation every year, the incidents of unrest would have come down, she said.
Rubana Huq, managing director of Mohammadi Group, an apparel maker, said it is not possible to relocate the factories overnight.
Ayesha Islam, president of National Women Worker Trade Union Centre, said workers need proper training on trade unions.
“Trade union is not only for workers' rights, it is for owners' welfare also. It is a bridge between the workers and the owners,” she said.
Shykh Seraj, a director and head of news at Channel i, advised Bangladesh Garment Manufactures and Exporters Association to set up a press wing to build a better relationship with the local and foreign media.
Atiqul Islam, the BGMEA president, and Rafez Alam Chowdhury, president of Bangladesh Garments Accessories and Packaging Manufacturers and Exporters Association, also spoke at the discussion moderated by Abdul Qayyum, associate editor of the Prothom Alo.