Labour law experts, employers and trade unionists urged the government of Bangladesh to ensure a participatory, inclusive and comprehensive reform in labour law sector for improving the labour-management relationship and better protecting rights of the workers. They also said that the government now has a unique opportunity to reform the Bangladesh Labour Act of 2006 and the Export Processing Zones Authority Act of 1980 through a broad-based input from different stakeholders by building consensus and creating a more just and reliable legal framework.
The speakers said so in a consultation meeting on “Freedom of Association and Beyond: Prospects and Opportunities for Labour Law Reform”, organised by the Solidarity Center-Bangladesh at the BRAC Center Inn, Dhaka on 22 August 2017.
Ms. Jennifer Kuhlman, Country Director of the Solidarity Center-Bangladesh Office, in her welcome speech said that many positive developments have been done for the safety of the workers since the Rana Plaza incident. The 2013 amendment to the Labour Act is one of the reflections of such developments. However, there is still scope of opportunity to reform in the labour sector, specially in case of ensuring workers’ right to freedom of association.
Mr. AKM Nasim, Senior Legal Counselor of Solidarity Center-Bangladesh, gave a presentation which highlighted the scope of labour law in Bangladesh, ILO’s recommended four paragraphs for the amendment of existing labour law, workers’ right to form trade union, unfair labour practice, law for EPZ (export processing zone) workers and labour judiciary issue.
Mr. Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmmed, Assistant Executive Director for the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), said that, “There is a growing concern that the labour law reform process will not go far enough. For the freedom of association to truly be realised, reform must include an expansion of the definition of ‘who is a worker’. Whether one is a domestic worker, or works in construction sector, in an office at a telecom company or in an EPZ, he/she deserves the same rights and protection like any other workers.”
Mr. Babul Akter of the Bangladesh Garment Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF) said that, “The current system for trade union registration and resolving unfair labour practices is broken. The unions are forced to meet a set of bureaucratic, burdensome and meaningless requirements, which allows officials to arbitrarily and unfairly reject union applications. If the legally defined minimum number of workers in a factory expresses their interest in joining a union by signing a membership form, they should have their union registered.”
Mr. S. Humayun Kabir, Director of the Bangladesh Frozen Food Exporters Association (BFFEA), said that, “The reform process can be a win-win for all the parties, if it is done correctly. We have worked hard in our sector to introduce a mechanism for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) that facilitates the efficient, effective and peaceful resolution of labour disputes. This kind of model should be expanded to other sectors and incorporated into the amended labour laws.”
Mr. Mahbubul Huq, President of the Labour Court Bar Association, said that, “Workers put themselves at great risk to stand up for a collective voice. The laws must protect them. If workers are discriminated against and/or lose their jobs due to union activity, there must have a credible and transparent process in place for them to swiftly obtain justice and to be reinstated.”
Mr. Timothy Ryan, Regional Program Director-Asia, Solidarity Center, in his concluding remarks said that, this now exists a moment in the legal history of Bangladesh concerning labour rights issue. This is an opportunity for Bangladesh to ensure a better labour law reform. He added that confidence building in industrial relationship can only be based on the foundation of law guided by the principles of justice and fairness. If that confident is built up, it would be a win-win situation for all.
This public consultation was participated by representatives from different organisations, workers’ federations, labour lawyers who gave their opinion and recommendation for the proposed amendment.
The writer is Program Officer, Solidarity Center-Bangladesh Office.