Govt should address labour leaders’ concerns about EPZ labour bill

The allegation that the Bangladesh EPZ Labour Bill 2014 draft, approved in principle by the cabinet on Monday, is intended to allow anything but trade unions in export processing zones deserves the government’s attention. Kabour leaders alleged, as New Age reported on Wednesday, that the bill fails to protect trade union rights, recognised by relevant conventions of the International Labour Organisation, which workers in many other sectors have enjoyed for long. The bill, moreover, allows workers willing to form an association in any factory there to apply to the chairman of the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority, a body set up to protect business interest of factory owners whereas the prevailing labour law vests the trade union registration authority only in the labour directorate. Besides, the provisions, including that requiring at least 30 workers of a factory to apply for permission to form an association are likely to complicate the process. One could be forgiven to say that the bill is virtually aimed at appeasing the US administration that pressured the government by suspending the GSP facility in July 2013 after the Rana Plaza collapse, on the one hand, and asking the government to fulfil 16 conditions, including allowing trade unions in EPZs as soon as possible in case it wants to regain the facility, on the other.
Even though EPZ workers receive more in wages and benefits than their fellows outside EPZs do, there is allegedly little difference between both the groups in terms of different repressive measures usually owners take to suppress worker protests against any violation of worker’s legitimate rights. It is a situation that may end up putting the sector in chaos any time, which is unexpected to owners as well as the people who want to see the country reap the sector’s huge potential in terms of employment generation and causing export earnings to enormously rise in a short period. The government should bear in mind that trade union in its true sense usually provides the management of a factory with a mechanism to resolve disputes between it and workers in a peaceful manner. It is hoped that the government will review the bill in question, consulting with especially labour leaders before its passage into a law.

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