Readymade garment labour leaders have told a visiting European Union delegation in Dhaka that trade unionism in Bangladesh is not as easy as it appears on paper; it is quite difficult here.
They said that of the officially declared number of trade unions in the garment sector, only 10% are active, and only 5% are acting as active collective bargaining agents (CBA). The rest either do not exist anymore or are created by the owners.
The three-member delegation, led by Paola Pampaloni, deputy managing director for Asia and the Pacific at the European External Action Service (EEAS), met with more than ten labour leaders in Gulshan, Dhaka, yesterday. According to sources at the meeting, the workers expressed their concerns about a variety of issues, including the amendment of the labour law.
Md Towhidur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Apparel Workers Federation, who was also present at the meeting, told The Business Standard, "Trade union formation in Bangladesh is still complicated. You have to give a lot of papers, and even then they (Department of Labour) are not satisfied."
"The government website says that there are more than 1,200 trade unions in the garment sector. But 50% of the factories are closed and most of the rest are owned by the owners. At most 150 trade unions are active, of which CBAs are active in 50 factories," he added.
"In addition, we have told the delegation that the progress shown in the implementation of the roadmap of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is not as much in reality as it is shown on paper," Towhidur Rahman said.
Expressing their objections to the recently passed amended labour law, workers said that the law was introduced in parliament, ignoring the objections of the tripartite consultative committee (TCC) formed by the government.
Towhidur Rahman, highlighting some of the issues in the law, said, "Government sector workers get six months of maternity leave, here it has been increased by eight days from the existing time to four months, which is discrimination."
"Currently, 20% of the workers' consent is required to form a labour trade union, which has been reduced to 15%, but the condition is that it is for factories with more than 3,000 workers. We demand that this right should be given even if 20 to 50 workers want. Such a system exists in neighbouring countries as well," he added.
In addition, the labour leaders have also raised the issue of the current minimum wage for the workers, which should be Tk23,000. The garments sector was ravaged by protests in recent weeks centring on a hike in the minimum wage.
The delegation has been in Dhaka since 12 November. They are scheduled to meet with the secretaries of three ministries of the government on 15 November.