Labour rules in the offing

Labour leaders fear rules will choke trade union activities

Ershad Kamol

The first ever labour rules of the country are in the offing, leaving certain important clauses of Bangladesh Labour Act ambiguous and addressing many of the disputes in which labour leaders and employers remained embroiled so far.
Both labour leaders and entrepreneurs have welcomed the government’s clear stance on the appointment of workers making mandatory registration of contractors and requiring them to provide all benefits to the outsourced workers.
Ambiguity in this regard has been manipulated for years by some employers depriving the workers of their due benefits.
But both labour leaders and entrepreneurs have raised objections to the government’s decision of cutting 0.03 per cent against the open letter of credit from the bank to create a separate fund for 100 per cent export-oriented factories.
The entrepreneurs are willing to deposit 0.03 per cent against the LC to the fund but they want key positions in the
management that will handle the fund when both the government and the labour leaders want that the government remain at the helm of the fund management.
The labour leaders also want that the profit-making export-oriented companies contribute 0.05 per cent from their profits to the government’s Workers’ Welfare Fund as per the Workers Welfare Foundation Act.
They also fear that the rules would choke trade union activities, would stop the benefit of safety committee concept and would be misused to oppress the workers.
However, state minister for labour Mujibul Haque, after the tripartite consultative committee meeting held on Tuesday at the labour ministry, said representatives of labourers and employers agreed to the proposed draft of the rules placed before them.
‘They had little disputes, which we could address in the meeting,’ said the minister, adding that the ministry would finalise the draft soon for sending it for the law ministry’s vetting.
He also termed the proposed rules a groundbreaking initiative. ‘Perhaps, this is for the first time we could make it mandatory for a certain sector to contribute to the fund to be used for the welfare of the workers in the sector.’
‘The 50 per cent share of the fund from the contribution of the export-oriented factories would be used for helping the sick factories so that they can continue production when the rest of the fund would be used for the welfare of the workers in the sector,’ the minister told New Age.
He further said that in the wake of pressure from international labour watchdogs the prime minister gave responsibility to expatriates’ welfare minister Khandker Mosharraf Hossain to negotiate with representatives of workers and employees.
A six-member committee of ministers, led by the expatriates’ welfare minster, had separate meetings with the representatives of workers and employers respectively on April 22 and May 6.
The government finalised the draft of Bangladesh Labour Rules, with 349 sections, following negotiations with both sides for nine years since the enactment of the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 (amended in 2013).
FBCCI vice-president and also a TCC member Md Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin said, ‘We have agreed to all the government’s proposals for welfare of the workers.’
Trade Union Centre general secretary and TCC member Wajedul Islam Khan, however, termed the rule ‘something is better than nothing’.
‘We could force the government to incorporate some points we made such as inclusion of lunch break within the maximum working hour limit,’ said Wajed.
He further said, ‘Following our persuasion, the government agreed to set 25km as the standard distance for giving termination benefits to the workers not willing to continue their job in a relocated factory.’
But, he admitted that he ‘forgot’ to raise issue of whether the provision of workers’ welfare fund would be applied for export-oriented factories. ‘It would remain as an ambiguous clause,’ he said.
Another TCC member and general secretary of Samajtantrik Sramik Front Razekuzzaman Ratan said, ‘The rules would choke trade union activities through some clauses which restrict trade union right to only permanent workers and requires renewal of the trade union committee on a regular basis.’
‘The rules make participatory committee as alternative to the trade union which is undemocratic in that the committee members are selected by the employers,’ Ratan said.
Ratan further said that empowering the supervisors with firing a worker would be misused. ‘Such provision was included to fulfil the demand of the mobile operators without realising its consequences in the apparel sector,’ Ratan said.
‘Such provision would create a new oppressing force from within the workers,’ Ratan said.
Ratan further said that all the members of the safety committee should be elected persons. They should not be nominated by the participatory committee or any government official such as inspector general of factories and establishments as the rules suggest.
Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies assistant executive director Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmed said certain sections of the rules were contradictory and should be reviewed before they were finalised.

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