A European Union delegation on Wednesday recommended that the government allow trade union instead of workers’ welfare association in the factories located in export processing zones.
At a meeting with officials of commerce ministry and labour ministry, the visiting European Union EBA technical mission also pressed the government for a time-bound action plan to address their concerns over the labour right situation in Bangladesh to continue receiving trade benefits under Everything But Arms (EBA) regime in the EU, senior government officials said.
Meeting sources said that the EU delegation demanded withdrawal of all criminal charges filed against workers with different police stations in December last year and January this year during a wage movement.
The delegation also wanted modification of labour rules and further amendment to Bangladesh Labour Act in line with ILO Convention 87 concerning freedom of association and protection of the right to organise and Convention 98 regarding right to organise and to bargain collectively.
They categorically demanded a reduction in the minimum membership threshold to 10 per cent from the existing 20 per cent for forming trade unions.
According to labour ministry officials, the EU also recommended that Bangladesh ratify ILO Convention 138 on the minimum age for employment.
At the meeting, the labour ministry informed the EBA follow-up mission about the progress Bangladesh has made on issues related to amendment to BLA, initiative for revisiting labour rules, update on Bangladesh EPZ Labour Act, trade union registration, anti-union discrimination and measures to eliminate forced labour and child labour.
Labour secretary KM Ali Azam informed the delegation that Bangladesh amended its labour act twice in 11 years to make sure that it conformed to the international standards.
He said that the government started its work to amend labour rules.
‘We have been working with BGMEA, BKMEA, BEF, workers’ union and federations, police forces on how to resolve those cases. In the meantime, we resolved some of the cases and the remaining would be resolved in the coming days, I believe,’ the labour secretary said at the meeting, responding to the EU demand to withdraw criminal charges filed against workers.
Regarding ILO Convention 138, Ali Azam said that Bangladesh ratified seven out of eight core conventions except 138 and his ministry remained engaged in discussions with the ILO and other partners on this issue.
He said the government was working to eliminate all forms of child labour from the country by 2025 and a new project had been taken to do so.
Seeking support from the delegation to secure Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) Plus benefit in the EU market for Bangladesh after its graduation to a developing country, commerce secretary Md Jafar Uddin said that the EU’s EBA arrangement had been playing instrumental role in the economy of Bangladesh.
He said that following Rana Plaza building collapse, Bangladesh, the EU and the US in collaboration with the ILO adopted Sustainability Compact on July 8, 2013 and the country (Bangladesh) made commendable progress in the area of labour rights, labour welfare and safety in the RMG
Citing the global slowdown in apparel demand, the commerce secretary said that around 1,200 factories were closed in last five years due to lack of demand and unhealthy stiff competition originated from continued price cutting efforts by buyers and retailers.
In the EU market, Bangladesh is getting duty-free and quota-free market access of all export products except arms and ammunition under the EBA arrangement.
Bangladesh’s export to the EU in last fiscal year amounted to around $23 billion, according to the official data.
European Commission adviser Nikolaos Zaimis, policy officer Alessandro Tonoli, head of unit for international issues Lluis Prats, EU Delegation to Bangladesh head Rensje Teerink and EU Delegation to Bangladesh trade adviser Abu Syed Belal were present in the meeting, among others.
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