Bangladesh’s Journey Towards Ensuring Labor Rights

Labor force plays a crucial role in Bangladesh’s development as the economy is labor intensive and still bottom-heavy. Workers are considered the human resources and the supply of labors to run the wheel of development. As they are the backbone of country’s development, provision of their security and rights is crucial. Essentially, state is responsible for ensuring rights of its citizens from where the sources of labor come. As a country of global south, Bangladesh’s labor rights not perfect yet but has a positive trajectory. The country has taken initiatives, formulated legal frameworks, and implemented those in accordance with the global standard and closely works with the International Labor Organization (ILO). The government of Bangladesh has also forged partnership and enforced cooperation with national and international stakeholders to improve the labor rights. Notably, since the incident of Rana Plaza and Tazrin Fashion, Bangladesh has strengthened its initiatives and accelerated implementation procedures to make sound base of labor rights.

Legal and policy perspective

Legal and policy frameworks are essential components in securing any rights. Bearing this in mind, Bangladesh has formulated a dozens of new policies and amended existing ones to ensure the rights of labor to keep up with the international standards. These legal frameworks are protection against the brace of labor rights violation and key to securing workers’ safety and security. Bangladesh has ratified all the eight ILO core conventions. Bangladesh passed Labor Act in 2006 and it was amended in 2018 to update with the contemporary world. The act has included all-inclusive issues and rights ranging from labor recruitment, labor-employer relationships, minimum wages, incidental costs, occupational hazards, dispute resolution, and workplace environment. It has also given the right to any worker to freely join trade unions- a democratic right.

Likewise, Bangladesh Labor Rules (BLR) was introduced on 2015 which has been further emended in September 2022. There was clear delineation of issues like appointment procedures, salary, other financial benefits, guidelines regarding provident fund.

Moreover, the emended rules have empowered trade unions and provision to prevent sexual harassment in workplaces by forming a five-member sexual harassment prevention committee led by a woman, arrangements of leave for women workers in case of miscarriages.   

Bangladesh formulated Labor Policy in 2012, Child Labor Elimination Policy in 2010, Labor Act of 2013, Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy 2015, Formulation of hazardous work list for children, National Occupational Health and Safety Policy 2013, formulation of Bangladesh workers’ welfare fund. These acts and polices are legal protection of rights of labors which ensure a productive, non-discriminatory, non-exploitative and healthy work environment for all active citizens. Notably, the Child Labor Elimination Policy was formed to address the malaise of child labor and to protect children from risky jobs. It has made a target of eliminating all types of child labor by 2025.    

Institutional and enforcement mechanisms

Bangladesh has developed institutional frameworks and mechanisms to implement and enforce legal frameworks. Ministry, departments, welfare foundation, fund, courts and unions have been employed to implement the formulated policies. Among them, the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MoLE) is the apex body in this regard, under which there are several departments to facilitate the functions of the ministry. MoLE enforces labor act, provides information, and gives advice to employers and workers on how to comply with it. Where the Department of Labor is responsible for ensuring labor rights including registration of trade unions, labor related disputes resolution and monitor labor rights situation. Department of Factory Inspection is responsible for inspection of the labor conditions, environment of factories.

Notably, the welfare foundation and central fund for labors provide grants and funds to the workers for medical purpose, study of their children and financial assistance to the laborers due to the deaths in workplaces. Apart from that, labor courts, formed with judges, members from trade unions, are responsible for oversee the legal violation of labor laws.

Collaboration and partnership

For better understanding and successful enforcement of legal procedures, Bangladesh has been engaging in collaboration and partnership with local and global stakeholders. The country has taken policy suggestions, expert opinions and good practices from ILO. Bangladesh has been working with ILO in several projects to improve capacity of labor inspectors and training for workers.

The adoption of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in collaboration with ILO has made significant outcomes in increasing the number of registration for trade unions, ensuring decent working conditions in factories and developing institutional frameworks of the regulatory bodies. With the funds from ILO, Bangladesh formed National Tripartite Plan of Action on fire safety and structural integrity (NTPA), which includes labor inspection reforms; occupational safety and health. In addition, Bangladesh made plan to rebuild the Department of Inspections of Factories and Establishments (DIFE), develop a labor inspection strategy and road map and establish a national Employment Injury Protection and Rehabilitation scheme with the help of ILO.  

Furthermore, to accelerate the drive of ensuring safety and security as well as improving working environment in factories, Bangladesh has been working with Accord and Alliance. These two bodies, formed with foreign buyers and supported by Canada, the Netherlands and UK, are inspecting the factories to ensure workers’ rights and security. They have inspected 3,780 factories of which 1,549 were assessed through the national initiative. Among them, 39 factories have been closed for posing an immediate danger to workers. 

Future policy directives

Bangladesh’s Journey towards labor rights is still underway. There are various aspects where the country needs to work in future through policy. Notably, it has embarked on making rules and regulations for labor rights regarding economic zones and alternative dispute settlement. There are still debates over implementing labor rights in EPZs especially when the country is trying to get GSP+ opportunity in the European market after the graduation from LDC. 

However, there is also room for improvement in dispute settlement procedures available currently. Due to slow process and loopholes, quite often settlement procedures do not meet the expectation. Apart from these, other issues that need to resolve are eliminating of child labor in all its forms, strengthening investigations, and eliminating the backlog of cases at labor courts. 

In conclusion, Bangladesh’s journey towards labor rights is not fulfilled yet. But the country has efforts and it has a positive trend. Through the legal drive and institutional mechanisms, laws and action plans have developed the scopes and nature of those rights. In advancing the overall procedures, the country has made partnership and collaboration with relevant stakeholders. The functioning trade unions, decreasing number of child labor and introduction of labor courts and foundation are the demonstration of extraordinary achievements of Bangladesh in ensuring labor rights. Last but not least, there are still miles to go for Bangladesh and efforts should not decrease in coming days.

[Photo by Solidarity Center, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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