Trade unions needed for Bangladesh RMG industry, minister
The labour and employment minister yesterday asked the garment makers to form “participation committees” at the factory-level to curb labour unrest.
Such committees will help develop the relationship between the workers and owners, said Khandker Mosharraf Hossain, the minister.
He also said the recent incidents of labour unrest were due to the absence of such platforms where both the owners and workers can hold dialogues.
The formation of trade unions in the garment sector will be based on the performance of the participatory committees, the minister said.
He was addressing an emergency meeting of the garment owners’ platform — Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) — in Dhaka.
“You have to form the participatory committees as the workers do not have any platform to hold talks with the owners to address their problems,” the minister told the garment owners.
Hossain also directed the secretary of his ministry to hold meetings of the five zonal crisis management committees to resolve the crisis in the garment sector.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to the conspiracy responsible for the recent unrest in the garment sector,” he said.
The owners will have to form the platform to hold dialogues with the workers, the minister said.
The BGMEA called the meeting to discuss labour unrest as factories were being damaged by angry workers following a rumour that a worker went missing.
Ministers, lawmakers, senior government officials, police, chamber leaders, labour leaders and different stakeholders spoke at the hurriedly called meeting.
Echoing the views of Hossain, Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan also suggested the owners should form the participatory committees and strengthen their mid-level management.
Israfil Alam MP, chairman of the standing committee on the labour and employment ministry, said the latest labour unrest at Ha-Meem Group might take place due to the influence of the local political leaders at Ashulia.
AK Azad, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry and also the owner of the affected Ha-Meem Group, urged the government to convene an emergency meeting of different ministries to end the problem through discussion.
“We will also allow the practice of healthy trade unionism. But, we need trained and skilled trade union leaders,” he said.
Director General of Industrial Police Abdus Salam urged the local parliamentarians to play more pro-active roles in curbing the unrest in the garment factories.
He said the police have already withdrawn the cases against Salman, a storekeeper of Ha-Meem Group. The latest labour unrest took place due to a rumour that Salman went missing, but he was present at yesterday’s meeting. BGMEA President Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin presided over the meeting.
Trade union must be allowed in the ready-made garment (RMG) sector to better address the labour rights issue, said Commerce Minister Faruk Khan yesterday.
“The workers’ right to trade union cannot be denied or deferred for long, whether it is in the garment or other sectors,” said the minister at a seminar on US-Bangladesh trade relations in Dhaka.
On the labour unrest that jolted the largest export-earning sector in recent times, the minister said: “Ultimately, trade union has to be allowed in all industries, including the ready-made garment sector, to tackle the problems and concerns of workers.”
The US, one of the largest markets for Bangladeshi apparels, has expressed concerns over the unrest which was said to be triggered by low pay and poor working conditions of RMG workers.
“We cannot turn around while the rest of the world is rapidly coming to recognise the labour rights issues,” the minister said at the seminar organised by the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI).
“The government is committed to complying with the International Labour Organisation conventions and to safeguarding the labour rights.”
Nevertheless, the minister observed that it would take time to implement trade union in one go in all sectors.
“At present, there are labour welfare committees in different export processing zones and organisations which address workers’ concerns, but they should be replaced by the labour union — sooner or later.”
Khan called for policy support from the US government to lift the high tariff imposed on a number of Bangladeshi exports to the US.
“Almost all our exports to the US have 15 percent to 31 percent tariff imposed on them, which could be lifted or reduced to increase our exports to the US significantly.”
He also called for increased US investment in Bangladesh, claiming that gas and electricity shortages would be significantly addressed by next year.
“Every single US investment in Bangladesh has been of great benefit for both Bangladesh and the US,” he said.
Bangladesh’s exports to the US totalled $3.7 billion in 2009, a decrease of 1.3 percent from 2008 but up 243 percent over the last 15 years, according to FBCCI statistics.
Major export items include woven apparel, knit apparel, fish and seafood, headgear and other textile products.
Speaking on the occasion, the US Ambassador to Bangladesh James F Moriarty called for the adoption of the ‘Better Work Programme’ of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to resolve the labour rights problems in the RMG sector.
“This Better Work Programme could be useful to address the labour rights issues more efficiently while assuring better transparency in the RMG sector,” he said.
Expressing his country’s concern over the recent labour unrest in the apparel sector, Moriarty said the programme could act as a platform for collaboration between the workers and the factory owners as well as the government guardians.
“By ensuring better wages and better working conditions, the Bangladeshi RMG factories could increase their efficiency and make themselves more competitive in the global market,” Moriarty added.
Focusing on the investment opportunities that exist in the country, he said a high level US delegation is arriving in Dhaka next month to review the investment situation in Bangladesh.
FBCCI President AK Azad described the labour issue as a major concern for Bangladeshi exporters as the country suffers significant image problems abroad.
Despite the absence of any trade union in the country, China remains the largest apparel exporter to the US and its exporters “do not care much about the compliance issues too”, he added.
In his keynote speech, Ananya Raihan, executive director of D.Net, outlined the need to improve the preferential market access through utilising the existing preferences and pursuing a bilateral free trade agreement to give a boost to the trade relation with the US.