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2 July, 2018 00:00 00 AM

Bangladesh and the rights of workers

Prof. Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled
Bangladesh and the rights of workers

Workers are oppressed, suppressed and are victims of the denial of their genuine rights across the world countries not only from the very beginning of the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century but since the dawn of human civilisation. Bangladesh is not an exception in this regard to other global countries even in the twenty-first century of unprecedented success in businesses and in science and technology. Moreover, the world has considerably advanced in all branches of human knowledge and production industry by now but workers’ lot has improved very little.

According to a report by labour rights group International Trade Union Confederation or ITUC Bangladesh is among the global 10 worst countries for workers. The continued suffering inflicted by the government and employers on trade unionists in the country led to Bangladesh receiving a rating of 5, said the ITUC Global Rights Index 2017 report. This means that workers have “no guarantee of rights” in Bangladesh. India, Pakistan and Myanmar also received a rating of 5 from the ITUC, while Nepal and Sri Lanka scored a better rating of 3 – “regular violator of rights”.       

      The other countries on the 10-worst list are Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Qatar, South Korea, Turkey and the UAE. The ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said that in too many countries across the globe, fundamental democratic rights of workers are being undermined or violated by corporate interests. The ITUC report published on June 13, 2017 says police brutality, mass arrests and discrimination are the main contributors to the repression of labour organisation in Bangladesh. It highlights the reaction to the garment workers protests in Ashulia in December 2016 as a major example of such repression. Following the week-long strike in Ashulia, thirty-five union leaders and workers' rights activists were detained and complaints were filed against more than 1,000 workers.

       In retaliation for the strikes Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) had suspended production at 59 factories. The two factories affected by the strikes, Windy Apparels and Fountain Garments, have filed criminal complaints against 239 workers. Another factory the Ha-Meem Group was reported to be filing complaints against as many as 1,000 workers. By early January 2017, more than 1,600 workers had been suspended and police had filed cases against 600 workers and trade union leaders. The ITUC also notes the Bangladesh Prime Minister's order to strikers to return to work and the labour minister's threat of stern action against them.

     The anti-union discrimination is also present at the systematic and practical levels in the country – Bangladesh. Only about 10 percent of Bangladesh's 4,500 garment factories employing more than 4.0 million workers have registered unions in part, as because the labour law of the country requires an unreasonably high 30 percent of workers to agree to form a trade union and mandates excessive registration procedures. On the other hand the government has vaguely defined powers to cancel a union's registration.

      After workers’ attempted effort to unionise in May 2015, anti-union dismissals could be seen in the case of Chevron which dismissed 145 workers in December 2016. The Habib fashions garment factory tried to block the formation of a union by workers and then shut down in August 2016 in retaliation. The murder of Barguna Road Transport Labourers Union leader Md Haider Ali in September 2016 is also mentioned as evidence of anti-union activity.

      According to the overall report, violence against and the repression of workers is on the rise across the world countries. The number of countries experiencing incidents of physical violence and threats against workers has risen 10 percent since 2016. Fifty-nine countries saw severe measures as attacks on union members in 2016 across the world to the violation of the rights of the global workers. The workers’ rights in Bangladesh in particular and globally in general demand urgent attention for tangible improvements befitting to the contemporary age and civilisation for equity and justice.

      A traditional maxim goes like this that “The poor men’s sons build civilisations and the rich men’s sons enjoy it”. Traditionally the workers those come to sell labour in mills and factories all over the world from time immemorial are the sons/daughters of poor men. The hefty profit earned from their produces goes to the pocket of rich entrepreneurs while the workers go ill paid. The workers live in shanties and the owner lives in palaces. The workers find it tough to meet two ends meet and the street dust-beans are filled with the scraps of food left over by the owners. This is the go of the day in building the nascent industrial civilisation of Bangladesh also. For the sake of, I repeat, “justice and equity” an immediate end to such practices is the demand of time here in Bangladesh in particular and world in general now at the beginning of the new millennium.        


The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General

Education Cadre



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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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