US official Biswal backs trade union in apparel industry
Nisha Desai Biswal, US assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, yesterday emphasised the importance of labour rights and safety standards in Bangladesh’s garment industry.
She spoke at a luncheon hosted by leaders of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association at the Westin Dhaka.
Quoting the US official, a participant in the meeting told The Daily Star that she also stressed that trade unions must be formed in a constructive way.
US Ambassador to Bangladesh Dan W Mozena was also quoted saying that trade union was implemented in some places, but not in the real sense.
The trade unions should not be ‘pet associations’ of the owners. The trade unions should not be for the owners, but for the workers, Mozena was quoted as saying.
The US officials will think about how to support Bangladesh to arrange training on trade unions.
Mozena also urged the BGMEA leaders to rehabilitate the workers injured in the recent unrest in the apparel industry, the meeting participant said quoting the US envoy.
The BGMEA leaders at the meeting sought duty-free access for garment products to the US market, a positive review of GSP privileges and fair prices from international buyers.
After the meeting, Biswal told journalists that there is an important opportunity for Bangladesh and its economy. “There is an important opportunity for the industry, labour, the government, civil society and international and Bangladeshi communities to work together to improve the labour situation.”
BGMEA President Atiqul Islam told reporters that they have sought duty- and quota-free access for RMG products to the US.
Islam said they informed Biswal about the recent hike in workers’ minimum salary and the US official appreciated it. “At the same time, we also requested fair prices of our products [from retailers].”
He said there were no discussions on the current political issues. “But we raised our concern about export activities amid political instability.”
BGMEA leaders raised concerns over the lack of coherence between European and North American retailers on factory inspection, building and fire safety.
The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a grouping of mostly European retailers, and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a group of mostly North American retailers, are yet to take initiatives to increase prices, the BGMEA leaders told the US official.
On the latest wage structure, they said it may not be difficult for large and medium factories to implement the new salary structure, but the small factories would be affected by the wage hike.
In addition, many factories are facing difficulties relocating their units from existing locations to safer places, while the bank interest rate is very high.
The BGMEA at the meeting also proposed the US official to allow Bangladeshi garment owners to visit large industrial units in the US to acquire an understanding on the relationship between workers, owners and labour leaders.
Biswal appreciated BGMEA’s proposal and said they will work on it. They will also try to get the American NGOs more involved in the Bangladeshi garment industry.