Government mulls ratifying ILO’s employment age convention

Jasim Uddin | Published: 23:43, Feb 06,2021


A file photo shows an underage worker performing a hazardous task at a factory in the capital. The government is considering ratification of the International Labour Organisation’s minimum age convention for admission into employment in a bid to keep its duty-free market access to the European market intact. — New Age photo

The government is considering ratification of the International Labour Organisation’s minimum age convention for admission into employment in a bid to keep its duty-free market access to the European market intact.

Officials of the labour and employment ministry said that the ministry had already held a meeting with the stakeholders concerned to assess the feasibility of ratifying the convention, known as Convention 138 of the ILO.

The ministry has also sought the opinions of the ministries and divisions concerned on the advantages and disadvantages of the move, they said, adding that the next meeting will be held soon to review the feedback of the stakeholders.

According to the convention adopted in 1973, the ratifying country should fix the minimum age for admission to employment or work to a level consistent with the fullest physical and mental development of young persons.

The minimum age shall not be less than the age of compulsory schooling and, in any case, shall not be less than 15 years, it said, adding that no one under that age shall be admitted to employment or work in any occupation.

The convention, however, allows a member whose economy and educational facilities are insufficiently developed specifying a minimum age of 14 years upon consultation with the organisations of employers and workers concerned.

Such a country may also permit employment of persons aged between 12-14 years in light work which is not likely to be harmful to their health or development.

The minimum age for admission to any type of employment, which by its nature or circumstances is likely to jeopardise the health, safety or morals of young persons, shall not be less than 18 years with a provision for setting the age at 16 years on the condition of protecting the health, safety and morals of young persons, according to the convention.

Bangladesh is required to comply with a total of 27 international conventions, including 15 conventions related to human rights and labour standards of the ILO, to avail the GSP+ scheme on the EU market as the existing generalised scheme of preferences benefit will end after three years of LDC graduation.

‘Ratifying the convention and complying with the provisions are necessary to secure the duty-free market access in the European Union after Bangladesh’s graduation from the least developed country status,’ said a senior official of the ministry.

He said that Bangladesh had ratified seven out of the eight fundamental conventions.

As per the conditions of the EU, the country should ratify and comply with the remaining conventions related to minimum age for admission to employment, he said.

Bangladesh may provide an action plan regarding the ratification of the convention, forced labour protocol and fulfillment of other requirements to the EU by March.

The EU is one of Bangladesh’s biggest trading partners and accounts for 58 per cent of its total exports and 64 per cent of its total readymade garment exports.

Bangladesh Labour (amended) Act 2018 strictly prohibits employment of children under the age of 12 in any factory or establishment and makes it a punishable offence.

Previously, a child who has reached the age of 12 could be employed in light work which is not dangerous to his or her health and development or shall not interfere with his or her education.

The government on Thursday also declared six industrial sectors free from child labour as part of its plan to eliminate child labour from the country by 2025.

These sectors are glass, ceramic, ship re-cycling, exportoriented leather and footwear and silk industries.

Earlier in 2015, the government announced the readymade garment and shrimp processing industries free from child labour.

Centre for Policy Dialogue research director Khondaker Golam Moazzem on Friday told New Age that implementation of the minimum employment age as per the ILO convention would be possible in the formal sector.

But it will be difficult to implement it in the informal sectors due to the socio-economic condition of Bangladesh, where many children work in the informal sectors as domestic workers, in smallscale industries,  agriculture and on the streets to support themselves and their families, he said.

The government should take measures to reduce the number of child workers in the informal sectors, bring those sectors under the labour law, provide social protections for children employed in the sectors and build social awareness to implement the convention, he added.

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