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Flouting labour law will hurt global trade aspirations: top official PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 May 2008

HTML clipboardWorkers' rights must be protected if international monitors are not to disqualify Bangladesh as it competes for its niche in international trade, said acting labour and employment secretary Dr Mahfuzul Haque, reports

On mounting global pressure over workers' rights, Dr Haque said labour rights activists abroad have been especially vocal about Bangladeshi workers being exploited in the garments, shrimp and knitwear industries.

Countries will not allow imports or give GSP facilities unless Bangladeshi factory owners take measures to improve workers' environments and comply with international labour laws, Haque said in an exclusive interview with on the eve of May Day—observed worldwide in support of labour rights.

"Only 77 officials are responsible for monitoring the implementation of the labour law throughout the country, which makes it almost impossible to look into the compliance situation in thousands of factories," he said. "That's why we tell the employers, 'Self monitoring is the best monitoring.'

We're telling them, abide by the labour law or the government will sue you," Haque said. It had taken 12 years, according to the official, to synthesise 25 separate laws into the Labour Law 2006.

"But many are not yet too familiar with the law, although a series of seminars and workshops were held throughout the country to explain and create awareness," he said.

However, the country has seen some progress in protecting and upholding workers' rights. On labour unrest and trade union disputes during the past year of emergency, the acting secretary said that under ongoing emergency rule a workers' participation committee had been formed with workers, owners and the government discussing problems with a view to resolving them.

Haque said a crisis management committee had also been formed, headed by a joint secretary, to look into labour unrest in the garments sector. The committee comprising representatives of workers, owners and labour organisations is "doing well" in resolving the crises, he said.

Headed by the labour adviser, a tripartite consultants committee has also been formed, Haque added. On recent debate about 'external incitement' to labour unrest, Haque said: "There might be some truth in that.

The recent labour demonstrations in Narayanganj during the visit of a US trade delegation are also being probed to see if that too was caused by 'instigators'." In the past, May Day saw only processions, rallies and discussions. But this year five seminars on 'labour law, its implementation and continuity' will be held concurrently.

This year, a three-day labour fair is being organised at the Osmani Memorial Auditorium, where about 50 stalls will display garments, knitwear, shrimp, paper, tea and ship-breaking products. The participants will also illustrate their compliance with the labour law.

Ten BKMEA members will be awarded this May Day for creating the best worker-friendly environment in their factories. Similar awards will be offered in the garments sector next year.

A film titled "Iron Eater" will also be exhibited for raising particular awareness of ship-breakers' plight. Haque cited the distress of deprived ship-breakers, saying the poorest people from the northern regions are engaged as workers at the ship-breaking yards, paid a meagre sum of Tk 200-Tk 300 and then seen off after three or four months of back-breaking work.

"The workers' wages are deducted on flimsy excuses and we must not keep quiet about these issues under any circumstances," Haque stressed.

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