Workers rights still a far cry: HRW

Staff Correspondent

New York based Human Rights Watch on Wednesday heavily criticised Bangladesh government and employers of factories over poor workers rights situation and said ‘lawlessness’ has continued in the apparel sector.
The international rights organisation also criticised the delay in investigation into the cases filed following the country’s worst factory disaster in the Rana Plaza building collapse on April 24, 2013.
‘…the delay is unacceptable. These should be priority cases of the government….the criminal investigation should be thorough and impartial. The trial should certainly follow international standards,’ Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch, told the media in the capital Dhaka during the launching of a report on two years of Rana Plaza.
The 78-page report, ‘Whoever Raises Their Head, Suffers the Most: Workers’ Rights in Bangladesh’s Garment Factories,’ is based on interviews with more than 160 workers from 44 factories, most of them making clothes for retail companies in North America, Europe, and Australia.
In the two years since more than 1,137 workers died in the catastrophic collapse of the Rana Plaza factory on April 24, 2013, efforts are underway to make Bangladesh factories safer, but the government and Western retailers can and should do more to enforce international labour standards to protect workers’ rights, including their right to form unions and advocate for better conditions, the HRW official said.
Garment workers in Bangladesh face poor working conditions and anti-union tactics by employers, including assaults on union organisers, the HRW said.
‘If Bangladesh wants to avoid another Rana Plaza disaster, it needs to effectively enforce its labour law and ensure that garment workers enjoy the right to voice their concerns about safety and working conditions without fear of retaliation or dismissal,’ said Phil Robertson.
Workers report violations include physical assault, verbal abuse – sometimes of a sexual nature – forced overtime, denial of paid maternity leave, and failure to pay wages and bonuses on time or in full.
The Bangladesh government should carry out effective and impartial investigations into all allegations of the workers, and prosecute those responsible, it demanded.
The right organisation called on the Bangladesh government, factory owners, and Western retailers to ensure respect for workers’ rights and end the unlawful targeting of labour leaders by factory owners and supervisors.
In the report, the rights watchdog observed that much more remains to be done to strengthen the ability of the labour and employment ministry to effectively investigate and prosecute unfair labour practices, including anti-union discrimination, intimidation, and harassment cases, and ensure inspectors strictly follow the law.
Bangladesh has also ratified International Labour Organization conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining, and is required to protect the rights contained in them.
‘Yet, to date, Bangladesh’s labour laws do not fully comply with these standards,’ said HRW report.
Alonzo Suson, the Bangladesh country director of Solidarity Centre, and Babul Akhter, president of Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers Federation, also spoke at the programme.

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