EC team to assess Bangladesh labour rights situation

Moinul Haque | Published at 12:05am on September 07, 2018


A file photo shows workers busy at a readymade garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka. A high-powered delegation of European Commission will arrive in Bangladesh on September 11 to assess human rights and labour rights situation in workplace, which is essential for the country to remain eligible for the EBA [everything but arms] regime in the European market. — New Age photo

A high-powered delegation of European Commission will arrive in Bangladesh on September 11 to assess human rights and labour rights situation in workplace, which is essential for the country to remain eligible for the EBA [everything but arms] regime in the European market.
The EBA Technical Mission to Bangladesh on Labour rights will meet high officials of commerce ministry, labour ministry and foreign ministry, labour leaders, leaders of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association and employers federation from September 11-16, the government officials said.
The delegation includes Nikolaos Zaimis, adviser at European Commission, Directorate General for Trade, policy officer of DG trade Maja-Alexandra Dittel and Elina Laurinen, head of unit of the Directorate-General for Employment Lluis Prats and policy officer Benedikt Buenker and deputy head of unit of European External Action Service Isabelle Delattre. They will scrutinise the progress of labour rights situation in line with the sustainability compact.
One of the high officials of the government said that the EC team would assess the need for launching a formal investigation into the status of labour rights situation in Bangladesh to decide whether or not the country would be allowed to enjoy generalised scheme of preferences under EBA in the EU market.
He said that they had held a meeting on the upcoming visit of EC delegation at commerce ministry on Wednesday and discussed how to face the team.
The meeting decided that the government would present the progress in labour rights, that already have been included in the amendment of labour act and Standard Operation procedure of anti union discrimination, sources said.
The EU commissioner for Trade on July 12 in a letter informed the commerce minister about the six-member ‘EBA Technical Mission to Bangladesh on Labour Rights’.
Freedom of association and collective bargaining, trade union registration, forced labour and child labour are the issues expected to be discussed during their visit, sources said.
In March last year, the EC had warned Bangladesh of the suspension of the generalised system of preferences because of violation of labour rights and freedom of association.
In a letter the commission had said, ‘We will need to demonstrate to the European Parliament, Council of Ministers and to civil society that Bangladesh is taking concrete and lasting measures to ensure the respect of labour rights. This will be essential for Bangladesh to remain eligible for the EBA [everything but arms] regime. Without such progress our monitoring could eventually lead to the launching of a formal investigation, which could result in temporary withdrawal of preferences.’
Following Rana Plaza Building collapse, the European Union and other partners engaged with Bangladesh in the sustainability compact in an aim to promote improvements in labour rights and workplace safety in the apparel sector and Bangladesh claimed that they fulfilled most of the requirements of compact in regards labour rights and workplace safety.
Although Bangladesh promised ensuring labour rights and investigating all acts of anti-union discrimination the global labour rights group repeatedly urged EU for a trade investigation into labour rights abuses in Bangladesh.
In the month of June this year International Trade Union Confederation filed a formal complaint with the European Ombudsman claiming that the European Commission was not taking into account its human rights obligations regarding trade policies towards Bangladesh, and was not transparent in doing so.
The confederation had alleged that Bangladesh committed serious and systematic violations of fundamental workers’ rights and the labour laws of the country created significant obstacles to the exercise of the right to freedom of association, to organise and to bargain collectively.
ITUC said that the EC had urged Bangladesh to improve conditions, but had not launched a formal investigation concerning Bangladesh’s GSP status, while the GSP would provide a very powerful tool for the commission to ensure that economic development did not leave workers behind.
It said that the commission failed to create a transparent and objective process for deciding when an investigation should be launched, making it impossible for NGOs or others to participate in the process.
‘The EC delegation would assess mostly the labour rights situation in Bangladesh and the amendments to the labour act would be a major issue,’ Tapan Kanti Ghosh, additional secretary of commerce ministry, told New Age on Thursday.
He said that the government brought change to the labour act taking into consideration the concerns of national and international stakeholders and the positive changes in this regard would be presented before the delegation.