Friday, 29 September, 2023

Workers’ Right and Labour Law of Bangladesh

Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed

Workers’ Right and Labour Law of Bangladesh
Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed

Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 was enacted for amending and consolidating the laws relating to employment of workers, relations between workers and employers, determination of minimum rates of wages, payment of wages, compensation for injuries to workers during working hours, formation of trade unions, raising and settlement of industrial disputes, health, safety, welfare and working conditions and environment of workers and apprenticeship and matters adjuvant thereto. In order to make the labour law more efficient, amendments have been made to it several times and finally the latest amended law was enacted in the year 2013 as “Bangladesh Labour Act 2006”. Subsequently as the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (Government of Bangladesh) was under pressure from various sources to promulgate the Labour Rules for a long time, the Government of Bangladesh has also introduced Bangladesh Labour Rules2015(Rule of 2015) on 15 September 2015 through a gazette.


As per these laws, the management of an organisation has to comply with the detailed requirements mentioned in the Act and Rule for maintaining suitable working conditions at the work places and the degree of compliance is to be inspected by the relevant government authorities time to time. Moreover, as reported by the Human Rights Watch, fire and safety factory inspections continued in the garment industry following agreements between big brands and the Bangladeshi government arising out of the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster. However, in September 2016, there was a fire outburst in a packaging factory in which at least 31 workers were killed and another 50 others injured. This incident highlighted the need for further efforts to ensure workers’ rights and safety.


In reaction to the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in April 2013, the “Compact for Continuous Improvements in Labour Rights and Factory Safety in the Ready-Made Garment and Knitwear Industry in Bangladesh” (Sustainability Compact) was built on short and long term commitments related to three inter-linked pillars: 1) respect for labour rights; 2) structural integrity of buildings and occupational safety and health; and 3) responsible business conduct. The Government of Bangladesh, European Union (EU), the United States (US), Canada and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) engaged in this joint initiative in order to promote continuous improvements in labour rights and factory safety in the Ready-Made Garment (‘RMG’) industry in Bangladesh.


However, as per the World Report 2017 (Bangladesh) of the Human Rights Watch, Bangladeshi authorities again failed to implement their commitments under the Sustainability Compact in 2016. No amendment has been made to the Labour Act and laws governing Export Processing Zones. These amendments were required to bring the working conditions for garments sectors in line with international standards. The Sustainability Compact for Bangladesh covers “respect for labour rights, in particular freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining,” as well as “responsible business conduct.” The failure by the garment industry and the government of Bangladesh to stick to its principles marks this industry and portends the economy and stability of Bangladesh.


However, although this condition is prevailing in our country; in August 2016, a Bangladeshi court charged 18 people with murder for the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza textile factory. Although international pressure following this incident brought improvement in workplace safety and forced the government of Bangladesh to amend the country’s labour laws, western consumers could not be assured that clothing made in Bangladesh is manufactured under safe and fair conditions. The same has been proved in a vicious strike by workers at a Windy Apparels factory in Bangladesh in December, 2016. The workers in that factory protested for safe working conditions and against shockingly low wages and the owners reacted by sacking approximately 1,500 workers. Factory owners who produce clothing for brands like H&M, Gap, Walmart, C&A, Abercrombie and Fitch and Tommy Hilfiger filed criminal complaints against 25 labour activists and workers, charging some under the Special Powers Act1974. The harsh reality is that the 2013 labour-law reforms could not do much to improve workers’ rights in Bangladesh. Time has come to realise that these kinds of activities could also make Bangladesh less attractive to western retailers. They may find the reputation of their brands compromised. The American Apparel and Footwear Association urged the Government of Bangladesh to embrace “a regular and transparent wage review mechanism”. Conversely, the lot of Bangladesh’s garment workers will not recover until Western retailers halt putting pressure on suppliers to drive costs even lower. Nonetheless, the light of hope to see a better future of the workers in Bangladesh still exists as the State Minister for Labour in Bangladesh in May 2017 said that the government would bring amendments to the labour law to make it updated and efficient. The Government of Bangladesh is well aware of the fact that we have to ensure quick justice for people through labour courts. Hence, the Government of Bangladesh is planning to increase the number of labour courts.


The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, in Article 14, states that –


“It should be a fundamental responsibility of the State to emancipate the toiling masses – the peasants and workers - and backward section of the people from all forms of exploitation”. The truth is that so much has to be done to make the above constitutional vision of worker deliverance from all forms of exploitation veracity. Economic reforms are perceptibly looked for to place Bangladesh on the path of stable, job-full and wide-ranging growth process.


Political reforms are also compulsory to assure that growth is sustained in the framework of an unwavering democratic society in Bangladesh.


The writer is an Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh