LABOUR COMPLIANCE

Multinational cos, RMGs enjoy special exemptions

Ershad Kamol

A number of multinational companies and export-oriented garment factories are enjoying special exemption from certain provisions related to labour compliance in Bangladesh Labour Act.
These exemptions include maximum working hours in a day and over the week, whether workers have fixed lunch break and weekly holidays.
Labour leaders complained that these companies were using the exemption from workers’ welfare-related sections of the law to engage workers in work for longer hours and to avoid obligations to follow local and international laws and social compliance audit.
Labour secretary Mikail Shipar said the ministry gave the waivers every six months through gazettes, on the basis of reports prepared by inspectors of the department of inspection for factories and establishments. ‘Inspectors recommend such waivers to curtail production costs at the factories.’
‘Workers’ approval is also taken for recommendations,’ the secretary said.
But, Mikail Shipar said that ‘by mistake’ the ministry gave British American Tobacco Company exemption from keeping workers’ records by giving the company waivers from application of Section 6 and 9 of the act.
Section 6 of the act requires an employer to provide a service book for every worker while section 9 stipulates that an employer should maintain a register of workers.
Section 324 of BLA allows the government to give exemptions in ‘public or national interest’ to an owner or worker from application of certain sections of the law other than those involving child labour or maternity leave-related sections.
At present, six multinational companies, all export- oriented local garment factories, all sugar mills, two foreign quick rental power companies and a local company are enjoying such exemptions.
Since the enactment of the law in 2006, British American Tobacco Company has been enjoying exemption from going by provisions relating to service book and register of workers, daily and weekly working hours, compensatory weekly holidays and weekly closure of the factory stipulated in Sections 6, 9, 100, 102, 104, 105, and 114(1).
German company Linde (formerly Bangladesh Oxygen Limited) is enjoying exemption from provisions relating to daily and weekly working hours, break for meal and rest after working more than six hours a day, weekly holiday and weekly closure of the factory
stipulated in Sections 100, 101, 102, 103, 105 and 114(1).
Joint venture company Coats Bangladesh Limited, local Pran Group and all sugar mills enjoy the same exemptions.
Two foreign quick rental power companies – North East Power Company and NEPC Consortium Power Limited – are enjoying exemptions from provisions relating to daily working hours, break for meal and rest after working more than six hours a day, weekly holiday, weekly closure of the factory and weekly holiday for 24 hours from the time a worker completes work on night shift as stipulated in Sections 100, 101, 103, 105, 114 and 106.
All export-oriented apparel factories are exempted from provisions relating to daily and weekly working hours stipulated in Section 100 and 102.
Nestle Bangladesh Limited has been exempted from provisions of maximum 10-hour working hours a day, including break for meal and rest under Section 105 and weekly closure of the establishment under Section 114(1).
Uniliver Bangladesh Limited and Lafarge Surma Cement Limited are exempted from weekly closure of the factory stipulated in Section 114(1).
British American Tobacco Company corporate affairs manager Anwarul Amin refused comments on the matter.
Linde head of industrial relations and administration M Rafiqul Islam said that the company sought the exemptions to continue uninterrupted production of oxygen. ‘Workers are paid for working overtime and given other benefits.’
Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association president Atiqul Islam said that the apparel factories took waivers in the face of pressure from buyers to meet social compliance audit. ‘Workers also want to work more to earn better,’ he said.
Lafarge Surma’s communication manager Taufik Imam said that the company took exemption as any interval of the plant would increase production cost. ‘The workers get holidays by rotation.’
Labour leaders said they wanted repeal of Section 324. Trade Union Centre general secretary Wajedul Islam Khan said the section was misused to exploit workers.
Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies assistant executive director Sultan Uddin Ahmed said, ‘This is flagrant violation of human rights. How come a tobacco company gets exemption in public interest?’
Labour secretary Mikail Shipar said the ministry would not give exemptions under sections 6 and 9 which employers could misuse.

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