EPZ labour bill stops short of allowing TU rights

Labour leaders say

Staff Correspondent

Labour rights groups have termed ‘disappointing’ the draft Bangladesh EPZ Labour Bill-2014 as it stopped short of allowing workers’ trade union rights.
Different labour rights groups on Tuesday alleged that the government did not bring any fundamental changes to the law as the provisions of ‘Export Processing Zones Workers Association and Industrial Relations Act, 2004’ almost remained in the newly approved bill.
Labour leaders said that the government move to introduce workers’ welfare associations instead of trade union had frustrated them as it was done without consultation with the trade union leaders.
‘No fundamental change have been brought to the bill and it has not ensured freedom of association and the right to form trade union,’ Sultan Ahmed, assistant executive director of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies, told New Age.
According to the bill, workers willing to form an association with the capacity to bargain for rights would have to apply to the chairman of Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority but BEPZA could not be the authority for giving registration to any trade union, he pointed out.
Labour directorate was the only authority to give registration to trade union, he said.
Chowdhury Ashiqul Alam, general secretary of Bangladesh Trade Union Sangha, said it was ‘sheer hypocrisy’ in the name of allowing trade union rights.
‘A welfare association cannot be a trade union and such kind of association can never protect the rights of workers,’ he said.
Ashiqul, also the former co-coordinator of SKOP, said that the BEPZA could not be the registration authority for any trade unions or collective bargaining agents as the body was formed with the sole purpose to protect the business interest of factory owners.
He said that to ensure free and fair trade unionism in the EPZ, workers must be allowed the right to register their associations under the labour directorate.
Amirul Haque Amin, president of National Garment Workers Federation, said that the new EPZ Labour Bill just recognised welfare association, not trade union.
The bill did not allow the right to form trade union in line with International Labour Organisation convention, he said.
Amirul said, ‘Though the government has allowed workers to form welfare associations, it made the process complex and we are not happy with the EPZ bill.’
Garment Workers Trade Union Centre president Montu Ghosh said that the government had approved the EPZ Labour Bill without talking to labour leaders and the new law could not ensure trade union rights of workers.
He demanded full trade union rights for the EPZ workers and simplifying the procedure of forming associations.
‘The government allowed workers to form welfare association but we want full implementation of trade union rights in the EPZ,’ Garment Workers Unity Forum president Mushrefa Mishu said.
‘It is good that the government’s mindset has changed a little and it has allowed welfare association but the workers’ rights could not be ensured unless full trade union rights are established in the EPZ,’ she said.
After the collapse of Rana Plaza building which killed at least 1,136 workers and maimed many others, the US suspended GSP facility to Bangladesh in July last year and provided a 16-point action plan to revive the privilege.
One of the major conditions of the action plan was bringing the EPZ law into conformity with international standards so that workers within EPZ factories enjoy the same freedom of association and collective bargaining rights as other workers in the country.

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