Historic May Day is being observed across the country and elsewhere across the world with due respect and various events. This year’s theme is ‘Build Worker-Owner Unity, Take Oath for Development’.
Bangladeshi apparel workers now are more empowered to raise safety concerns at workplace and rights than the past as the number of trade union saw sharp rise.
It is six years, when the Rana Plaza building collapsed in 2013 killing 1,135 apparel worker and leaving over 2000 people severely injured.
The incident raised question about workplace safety and workers’ rights raise voice to safety concerns.
But the workers of the country’s $30 billion apparel industry as now more empowered and they can exercise rights to realize demands.
“We are getting our wages timely including many other facilities. There is childcare center that helps me to give better output for the factory as I do not feel worried about my baby while I work. I meet three to four times with my baby during the working hour,” Champa Akter, a worker of Dhaka based garments factory said Textile Today.
“There is trade union in our factory where we can talk on our safety issues and present our rights that should be ensured by our factory owner,” she highlighted.
A women worker of Desh Garments Ltd was sharing her feelings, “I am lucky that I have got chance to work such a good factory. Our factory owner is very helpful, she helps us not only for ensuring good factory environment but also solve our many personal problems that are not related with the factory work at all.”
Vidiya Amrit Khan, Director of Desh Garments Ltd said Textile Today, “Special facilities for woman employee in my company are childcare, breastfeeding kids on working time, maternity benefits etc. Now you can ask that all compliance factory has the same facility, so why I am highlighting these. You know different factories have different policies. As a woman, I understand the need of women, so that, woman employee can enjoy those facilities more flexible here.”
“Sometimes, our supervisors complain if any women go for breastfeeding her baby 8 to 10 times in a day. I just say, “I cannot forbid them to do it as it is her baby’s right,” she continued.
Bangladesh government has taken initiative such as amendment in Bangladesh Labor Act 2013, which has ensured more power to the workers.
“The amended Bangladesh Labor Act included provisions to provide workers with a greater voice through enhanced freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. These revisions were intended to allow workers to raise health and safety and other concerns in their workplaces,” Tuomo Poutiainen, Country Director of ILO Bangladesh said.
The amendments were also aimed for Trade Union formation to become easier so that the workers issues can be promoted collectively through representative workers organization, said Tuomo.
These are positive development, however more needs to be done for workers and employers to come together to improve industrial relations and safety in Bangladesh, said the Country Director.
After the factory disaster, the trade union registration has seen a sharp rise in last six years, which made the workers empowered.
According to the Joint Directorate of Labor (JDL), a total of 594 trade unions have got registered in the RMG industry since 2013, of which 494 are in Dhaka division-based factories while 100 are in Chittagong.
In the year 2018, a total of 82 trade unions — 75 from Dhaka zone and 7 from Chittagong — got registered.
“Worker’s rights at the country’s apparel sector is far better than it was in the past. The number of trade union has increased sharply in last six years,” said Sirajul Islam Rony, President, Bangladesh National Garments Workers Employees League (BNGWEL).
Now, workers can raise voice against the violation of their rights as most of the factory has safety committee, said Rony.
On top of that, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has introduced call center to let the organization know about worker’s concerns regarding safety hazards and rights issue.
While the retailer’s platform Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety has dedicated call center name ‘Amader Katha’, which also made workers empowered to inform safety hazards or rights issue.
In ensuring worker’s rights, a good number of steps have been taken both from the government and the private sector. As a result, the workers’ rights situation is in a good shape, BGMEA Vice President Mohammed Nasir said the Textile Today.
Through call center, a worker can inform the association about safety concerns, if there is any. While they are also empowered by the safety committee at factory level, he added.
Nasir also said that BGMEA is committed to ensure a safe workplace and workers’ rights in the sector as it believes a good relationship between worker and owners will lead the sector to a new height.
Meanwhile, initiative of the global retailers and International Labor Organization’s (ILO) active role in ensuring worker’s rights have helped the sector to improve labor rights situation in the sector.
The ILO believes that ongoing social dialogue between the government, employers and workers can help address the concerns of workers and employers in a peaceful and orderly manner, said Tuomo.
Moving forwards joint effort to develop effective dispute resolution systems and reform and make labor courts more effective should also be considered, he added