RMG SECTOR TRADE UNIONS : Number rising, but most remain ineffective

Moinul Haque

The registration of the trade unions in the readymade garment sector has increased in recent years but the unions remain ineffective at the factories across the country.
Labour rights activists said that under special circumstances (amid Bangladesh’s efforts to regain GSP facility in the US market) the government was compelled to give registration to trade unions in the sector but the unions could not play its role in the factories due to barriers put by the factory authorities and lack of proper initiative from the government.
Labour leaders said 326 trade unions got registered with the labour directorate in the RMG sector so far but less than 20 per cent of them could run their primary activities in the factories.
Of the 326 trade unions, 138 got registered in 1983-2012 and the rest got registered in 2013-15 after the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed more than 1,100 people, mostly garment workers.
Though the government has officially allowed trade unions in the RMG factories, the factory authorities are creating critical situation for the workers who are engaged in trade union formation, labour leaders alleged.
Government officials, however, said that there was no restriction on trade union activities in the RMG sector from the government side and no one had filed so far any complaint with the labour directorate over facing troubles in their units for involvement with the trade union.
‘Despite the rise in the number of trade unions in the RMG sector no progress in terms of collective bargaining has been seen in the factories,’ Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies assistant executive director Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmed told New Age on Saturday.
He said for free and fair trade union activities in the sector the government should ensure protection for the workers who are engaged in the process.
At the same time the national federations in the respective sector also have responsibility to activate the basic unions in the sector.
Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation, said that less than 20 per cent of the registered unions could run their activities in the garment factories and the authorities of the most of the factories did not allow association in their units.
He said to implement trade union rights in the factories owners must have to change their mindset.
‘Two basic unions under our federation are working in two factories namely Friends Style Ltd and Basic Apparels Ltd but no unrest has taken place in the factories so far. This can be an example that trade unions never hamper working condition as well as production in factories,’ Amin said.
He, however, alleged that the registration of trade unions in the RMG sector dropped this year as the government took a go-slow policy to giving registration to the entities.
Amin said a good number of applications had been rejected due to the government policy.
Brushing aside the allegation, SM Ashrafuzzaman, director of the labour directorate, told New Age that some of the applications were rejected based on valid ground.
‘We know the government has allowed trade unions in the readymade garment sector under special circumstances and to show an increase in the number of trade unions in the sector to the international community the government
has given registration to the most of the trade unions under its negotiation with the federations loyal to factory owners,’ said Mahbubur Rahman Ismail, president of Bangladesh Textile Garment Workers Federation.
The trade unions which have got registration under such negotiation cannot play effective role
in protecting workers’ rights, he said.
Bangladesh Garment Workers Employee League president Sirajul Islkam Roni said that less than 50, out of the 326 registered trade unions, were effective in the factories.
‘No basic unions are effective in the sector as the workers who are the leaders of the unions remain under tremendous pressure from the owners,’ he said.
Sirajul alleged that the workers engaged in the unions were receiving frequent threat of termination and harassment from the owners.
Labour director Ashrafuzzaman, however, said that they were not aware of any such intimidation as no one filed any compliant with the directorate in this regard yet.
‘If we get any complaint, action will be taken as per law,’ he said.
Md Siddiqur Rahman, a former vice-president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, claimed that the mindset of owners has changed and they have no reservation about the constructive trade union activities in the sector.
‘But the key problem of introducing trade union in the factories is that the workers who are the leaders of the unions are not aware of the labour act,’ he said.

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