European parliamentary delegation on Monday demanded same standard of labour laws for factories in Special Economic Zones and those outside the zones and called for amending the Bangladesh Labour Act to ensure freedom of association and collective bargaining.
On the first day of its visit, the delegation held separate meetings with labour leaders, officials of International Labour Organisation and Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association to discuss the existing labour situation in Bangladesh.
In the meetings, both the labour leaders and factory owners said that they would work together with the EU to improve the standard of labour rights and they wanted to see the continuation Generalised System of Preferences for Bangladeshi export products, the meeting sources said.
The four-member delegation includes Arne Lietz, co-rapporteur on the garments report committee, Linda McAvan, EP Chair of the Development Committee, Nobert Neuser, development coordinator of S&D and Agnes Jongerius, member of international trade committee of S&D.
According to the sources, the EU delegation did not mention the issue of suspension of the GSP directly but they emphasised on improving labour condition and transparency in trade union registration process.
They also suggested that the government should withdraw the provision of getting consent from 30 per cent of the workers at a garment factory for trade union registration.
The factory owners, however, opposed the proposal saying that they would not agree with the proposal any more even if their factories got shut, one of the BGMEA leaders said.
Restructuring the Minimum Wages Board for the readymade garment workers, removing inequalities between public and private sectors regarding maternity leave and the withdrawal of cases filed against workers of the Ashulia factories who demanded wage hike have also been discussed in the meetings, labour leaders and factory owners said.
‘We welcomed the delegation for monitoring labour situation in Bangladesh and urged them to continue Generalised System of Preferences and to take initiative so that buyers increase the prices of products.’ Nazma Akter, president of Bangladesh Combined Garment Workers Federation, told New Age on Monday.
She said that the labour leaders discussed the inequality of maternity leave facilities between public and private sectors as the RMG workers get leave for four months while public sector employees are enjoying six months’ leave.
The labour leaders also discussed issues like living wage and restructuring of Minimum Wage Board for the garment workers as more than three years have passed since the announcement of last minimum wages.
‘We are here on a fact finding mission and it is a follow-up visit of the visit by international trade committee of the European
Parliament that took place in November last year,’ Arne Lietz, chief of the delegation said at a press briefing following a meeting with the BGMEA at Westin Hotel in the city.
Bangladesh achieved MDG most successfully and labour rights is a critical issue for achieving SDG 2030, he said.
He said that the delegation emphasised on ‘Special Paragraph’ provided by the ILO in the international labour conference in June last year.
BGMEA president Md Siddiqur Rahman said that they presented the progress report regarding labour rights which were articulated after the Rana Plaza building collapse before the delegation.
‘We said that we want to work together and we want to implement the suggestions of the EU gradually,’ he said.
Siddiq said that Bangladesh made lots of progress but lots still needed to be done.
‘We want to protect our business for the sake of our country and 4.4 million of workers as well. We are working on the special paragraph of the ILO and hopefully it will be completed in time.’ he said.
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