Proper implementation of labour laws and rights along with continued reforms in this sector are the keys to becoming eligible for the Generalised Scheme of Preferences+ (GSP+) scheme in the European market, experts and labour leaders say.
They recommend the government address several labour and human rights challenges to ensure smooth graduation from the LDC status because only changing provisions of the labour law is not enough to ensure human and labour rights at the workplace.
The recommendations came at a dialogue titled "EU's EBA & Prospect of GSP+ for Bangladesh: Addressing challenges related to Labour Laws and Rights". It was virtually arranged by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) on Wednesday.
Bangladeshi products will face an 8.7% tariff in the European Union (EU) market – the destination of 58% of the country's total exports – after the GSP facility is withdrawn following the country's graduation from the least developed country (LDC) status, which could reduce shipments by 5.7% every year.
Professor Mustafizur Rahman, a distinguished fellow at the CPD, moderated the event and said Bangladeshi products would face a significant tariff in the international market after LDC graduation in 2024 or 2026.
He emphasised ensuring labour laws and rights through social dialogues with all stakeholders concerned.
Mustafizur also noted that structural weaknesses and administrative challenges need special attention.
Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director at CPD, presented the keynote and said Bangladesh has made a lot of progress – including amending laws and rules in terms of ensuring decent work in factories and eliminating child labour, especially in the garment sector – but has to overcome numerous legislative, structural and administrative challenges related to labour standards after LDC graduation.
"There is still a lot to be done in terms of implementing the laws, the inclusion of workplace harassment issues in the legal framework, addressing the forced labour issue properly, and overall monitoring and implementation of the framework of decent work to become eligible for the GSP+ scheme," he added.
Gaining access to the EU market under the GSP+ scheme requires Bangladesh to comply with 27 international conventions – 15 of which are related to human rights and labour standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) – and implement those without reservations.
The EU has already suggested nine areas of actions, including amendments to labour-related laws, elimination of child labour, increasing the success rate of trade union registration, and combatting violence against workers, harassment, unfair labour practices and anti-trade union discrimination.
Rensje Teerink, ambassador of the EU delegation to Bangladesh, said Bangladesh should rebrand itself as a safe country that respects labour laws.
"This will not only ensure GSP+ benefits but also help in the overall development of workers."
Tuomo Poutiainen, ILO country director in Bangladesh, in his speech focused on increasing institutional capacity and emphasised continuing dialogues on labour law and rights.
Socialist Labour Front General Secretary Razequzzaman Ratan said the scope of formation of trade unions was not wide and this would create more crisis in productivity.
Freedom of trade unions should be enhanced without conflicting with workers' duties, he said.
Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association's first Vice-President Mohammad Hatem said entrepreneurs had been implementing international standards without getting standard prices of products.
He said buyers need to ensure global prices that will help improve workers' livelihood and comply with global labour laws.
Bangladesh Trade Union Sangha Secretary General Chowdhury Ashiqul Alam said labour laws need to be developed in tandem with domestic and international stakeholders due to global connectivity while Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association Vice-President Arshad Jamal Dipu argued that drafting of labour laws should be based on the domestic context.
Bellal Hossain Seikh, director at the Department of Labour under the labour ministry, said data on trade unions and dispute resolution would be available soon.