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Trade unions can address workers’ concerns amid pandemic: CPD

  • Staff Correspondent
  • 18th April, 2021 12:00:00 AM
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Trade unions can address workers’ concerns amid pandemic: CPD

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Trade unions could have played a crucial role in addressing workers' concerns amid Covid-19 pandemic, if a large number of workers were unionized in the country, CPD said on Saturday.

“Unfortunately, the majority of workers are not unionised in the country – only 4.2 percent of the total labour force are active trade union members,” repented Dr Khondker Golam Moazzem research director of CPD.

There are as many as 8,551 trade unions in the country, most of which are basic trade unions, he informed.

The observations came at a virtual dialogue on Recovery of the Labour Market during COVID-19: Role of Trade Union.

The dialogue was jointly organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), and Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS).

Trade union activities are observed in few sectors: transport 35.2 percent of total workers involved in trade union-related activities, RMG 11.6 percent, construction 6.9 percent and jute 4.6 percent, CPD said. 

During the covid pandemic, trade union activities are largely reflected in these sectors, mainly through basic trade unions and federations

“Such a segmented form of trade union activities was unable to address the concerns of workers who are mostly un-unionised amid Covid-19,” Dr Moazzem said.

After the profound impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy, particularly on the world of work during the first half of 2020, a significant part since then has been struggling for rebounding and recovery.

The major struggle has been confronted by different worker groups, including regular, temporary, and casual workers and small-scale employers, particularly those self-employed and involved in MSMEs, retailing, construction, road, commerce, tourism, and other informal sectors.

Effective social dialogues will be the key to recovery of the labour market during COVID-19, suggests CPD.

CPD’s Executive Director, Dr Fahmida Khatun, and Nazrul Islam Khan, Secretary-General & Executive Director, BILS delivered the introductory remarks at the dialogue. They remarked that the rebounding and recovery of the world of work particularly those of workers     

and employers have been supported mainly by different public policies and interventions.

These public policies and employers' actions have been primarily influenced by the active participation of the trade unions.

Like other countries, trade unions in Bangladesh have played an active role both in humanitarian issues and workers' rights issues during this crisis period.

A detailed review of their activities would help understand the nature and extent of their engagement, their capacities in influencing national and international policies and employers' activities, as well as the gaps in activities where further engagement is expected in the future.

Against this backdrop, a CPD study has revisited the role of trade unions in Bangladesh during the pandemic period to identify a set of policy proposals for influencing the process of sustainable recovery of the labour market.

Dr Moazzem said different tripartite discussions and negotiations that have been undertaken during this crisis period had ensured limited success in favour of workers and MSMEs regarding coping with the risks and rebounding and recovery from the crisis.

Workers' health and safety are in a vulnerable state due to the second wave of the pandemic. There is a need for tripartite discussion and a joint statement on ensuring the interest of workers through implementing the long-term policies.

Based on the national social Safety Net strategies, trade unions need to identify various support measures required for workers and their families under the provisions of social security for the working-age people, socially excluded groups, a food transfer programme, protection for disabilities and affordable healthcare. Government, employers and other stakeholders should work together to sign agreements related to international labour and human rights.

KM Abdus Salam, Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of Bangladesh, a Guest of Honour at the dialogue, mentioned all stakeholders are heard with equal importance and monitoring is taking place regularly through the central monitoring committee.

ILO Country Director Tuomo Poutiainen also joined the virtual dialogue as the other Guest of Honour. He suggested that the government should focus on providing social safety net to labours in both formal and informal sectors.

Lawmaker Shirin Akhter reiterated the need for continued social dialogue with the participation of all. She also called for increasing the number of enlisted organisedlabours.

Tripartite coordination is vital to reduce communication gap among stakeholders, said the Chair of the session and former caretaker government adviser Syed Manzur Elahi. He opined that it is the responsibility of the government to organise participatory social dialogue.