HRW wants Dhaka to remove barriers to TU in Garment industry

HRW wants Dhaka to remove barriers to TU in Garment industry

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said Bangladesh government should urgently remove legal and practical obstacles to unionisation in its readymade garment industry.
“Garment workers face daunting challenges to unionization, and remain at risk of interference and threats by factories three years after the Rana Plaza building collapse,” said the international rights body.The US based human right watch made the call through a statement on Wednesday three days ahead of third anniversary of Rana Plaza building collapse that left some 1,100 garment workers killed and many others injured.
In July 2013, the Bangladesh government committed to a Sustainability Compact with the European Union, pledging to reform labor laws. Yet its laws and rules governing labor rights and export processing zones still have rigid union restrictions, in violation of international law, said the HRW.
‘Let’s remember that none of the factories operating in Rana Plaza had trade unions,’ said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director.
‘If their workers had more of a voice, they might have been able to resist managers who ordered them to work in the doomed building a day after large cracks appeared in it.’
It mentioned that only about 10 per cent of Bangladesh’s more than 4,500 garment factories have registered unions.
While many factory workers have tried to form unions, government authorities have frequently rejected applications.
In a recent Human Rights Watch meeting with Labour and Employment Minister M Mujibul Haque, the minister dismissed concerns raised about the difficulty of registering a union, saying, ‘Most who apply for union registration have no idea what a union is,’ it said.
Bangladesh labour laws and procedures pose formidable barriers to founding and operating a union. The labour law requires an unreasonably high 30 per cent of workers in a factory to agree to form a union and mandates excessive registration procedures. ‘The government has vaguely defined powers to cancel a union’s registration,’ said the HRW.
Factories also threaten and attack unions and their members with impunity.
The HRW has documented cases of physical assault, intimidation and threats, dismissal of union leaders, and false criminal complaints by factory officials or their associates against garment workers.
The Bangladesh authorities have failed to hold factory officials accountable for attacks, threats, and retaliation against workers involved with unions, the global rights body claimed. ‘If their workers had more of a voice, they might have been able to resist managers who ordered them to work in the doomed building a day after large cracks appeared in it.’
They should also insist that all aspects of the Sustainability Compact have publicised timelines against which the Bangladesh government’s record can be assessed.
Unless such steps are taken and demonstrable progress made under the Sustainability Compact, it said, the EU should send a clear message to the Bangladesh government that it will initiate action to revoke the country’s trade preferences under the Everything But Arms trade initiative.
The EU and other donors should also insist that the Bangladesh government put in place a robust process for investigating and resolving cases of unfair labor practices, said the HRW.
Global apparel and footwear brands that source from factories in Bangladesh, including those in the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, should also support efforts to ease legal restrictions on unions and stop factory union-busting activities.
They should disclose their supplier and processing factories, and work with them to ensure they comply with international standards for workers’ basic rights.
‘Thwarting independent garment worker unions is bad for businesses, workers, and Bangladesh’s international reputation,’ Robertson said.
‘Bangladesh needs to show it has political will to permit workers to exercise their rights by registering unions promptly and punishing factory owners who bust unions or fire their leaders,’ he said.
Garment workers in Bangladesh face poor working conditions and anti-union tactics by employers including assaults on union organisers. – Staff Reporter

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