Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July 2014, 14:56 GMT

2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Bangladesh

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Bangladesh, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd88965c.html [accessed 22 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 149,692,000
Capital: Dhaka

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Murders: 1
Injuries: 100
Arrests: 130

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher

Introduction

Police attacks against demonstrating workers demanding better working conditions and higher wages were widespread. One worker was killed when police attacked protesting workers at Advanced Chemical Industries (ACI) Pharmaceuticals in Narayanganj. The use of contract workers continued to be a source of labour instability. The Bangladeshi High Court directed the government to stop forced labour and the enslavement of employees by confinement or tying up their hands or legs. There are numerous legal restrictions on the ability of EPZ workers to exercise their full rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Background

In the fiscal year ending in May, Bangladesh enjoyed its best economic growth (6.7%) since the early 1970s. Manufacturing expanded by 9.5% with major industries showing at 10.4% growth as garment shipments soared following a dramatic surge in orders diverted from China. Economic expansion was offset by an annual inflation rate that hit 11.6% in November. Poverty still grips the country with nearly 40% of the people living below the poverty line.

Human rights issues in Bangladesh continue to be a source of serious concern. According to information gathered by the human rights NGO, Odhikar, in 2011, 135 persons were reported killed and 11,532 injured in political violence. There were 84 extrajudicial killings. Violence against women including rape, dowry related violence, acid violence, domestic violence and sexual harassment continued to be a significant issue as well.

Workers at shipbreaking yards and garment workers continued to be at risk due to unsafe working conditions. A total of ten workers from three shipbreaking yards were killed during the year. At least 80 garment workers were injured and other ten died in factory fires and explosions during the year.

Trade union rights in law

Trade union rights are not adequately protected in law. While the Constitution provides for freedom of association, in order to register, unions must represent an inordinate 30% of the workers in an enterprise and must obtain authorisation from the government. No action can be taken prior to registration, and the Registrar may also cancel the registration with Labour Court approval.In general, only enterprise unions can be created and only current employees can be union members, which means that the loss of a job also leads to the loss of union membership. Public sector workers are prohibited from joining unions, although there are a number of notable exceptions.

Furthermore, the right to strike is also limited. All strikes must be called within a specific time frame or the dispute will be considered terminated, and the decision to strike must be taken by a three-quarters majority. The government can ban any strike that continues beyond 30 days in "essential services" or if the strike is considered a threat to national interest, in which case the 1974 Special Powers Act can be used to detain trade unionists without charge. Offences such as "obstruction of transport" carry exorbitant penalties of up to 14 years' forced labour.

Enacted in 2004, the EPZ Workers Association and Industrial Relations Act (EWAIRA) established a legal framework for the exercise of some labour rights in the EPZs. However, the law fell short in that workers were not permitted to form trade unions but instead various kinds of worker associations that did not have the full rights to which they were entitled under international labour law. The law was to expire on 1 November 2008. That year, the interim military government decreed an extension of the EWAIRA for an additional two years, from 1 November 2008 to 1 November 2010. In August 2010, the civilian government passed legislation giving effect to the interim government's decree enabling the extension of the EWAIRA and which ushered in the EPZ Workers Welfare Association and Industrial Relations Act of 2010. However, it merely changes the name of the "workers association" to "workers welfare society," eliminates the workers' representation and welfare committees (which had already been superseded in large part by worker associations) and otherwise extended the effective date of the current scheme for another three years. The new law made an important amendment further limiting freedom of association by prohibiting any links with NGOs.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Labour Court rules that contract workers be made permanent employees: On 30 March, a labour court in Dhaka ordered Grameenphone to treat its 264 drivers appointed under third-party agreements as permanent employees. The court ruled that the 264 drivers should be treated as permanent Grameenphone employees effective on the date of the successful completion of their respective probationary periods. The Bangladesh Labour Act does not allow outsourcing for jobs of a permanent nature.

Power plant suspends union president: On 10 April, 250 contract workers at the Barapukuria Thermal Power Plant (BTPP) in Dinajpur District went on strike to protest the seven-day suspension of Barapukuria Power Plant Workers Union (BPPWU) President Mohammed Nuruzzaman. Naruzzaman was forced to leave the plant on 9 April after a heated discussion with a management official over the regularisation of workers.

Difficulties in trade union registration: Workers have filed several registration applications with the authorities, but due to a very slow and cumbersome process, in addition to anti-union animus, few applications have been acted upon. Workers have also complained that the union registration process requires a list of the names of union supporters to be filed together with the application, which are often handed over to employers which then retaliate against the workers through discipline or dismissal.

Union busting in shrimp industry not redressed: Independent unions were formed and collective bargaining demands were tabled at some of the largest factories in the shrimp industry. However, subsequent to the formation of the unions, most of the executive committee members of the unions were dismissed in 2010 without cause or forced to resign. These factories included Organic Shrimp Export (Pvt)., Ltd., Jahanabad Seafoods, Ltd., Modern Seafood Industries LTD., Southfield Fisheries Industries, LTD. and Southern Food Industries. Many workers remained terminated, some with cases challenging the dismissals still pending, in 2011.

Violations

Bangladesh ratifies UN convention on migrant workers: The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation, Odhikar, welcomed the Bangladesh government's ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families on 11 April.

Mosrefa Mishu released!: Garment Sramik Oikkya Parishad President Ms. Mosrefa Mishu was released from jail on 28 April 2011. Bangladesh police arrested and detained Mishu on 14 December 2010 on charges of vandalism, arson, and looting associated with garment worker protests.

High Court rules on forced labour: On 22 May, the Bangladeshi High Court directed the government to stop forced labour and the enslavement of employees at brickfields and other business places by confinement or tying up their hands or legs. The court issued a ruling ordering the government to explain within two weeks why it should not be directed to make sure that such forced labour does not take place. The High Court issued the order following a petition filed by the Bangladesh Human Rights Foundation the same day.

Anti-union dismissals in EPZs:

Three worker association executive committee members (president, general secretary and treasurer) from GBEE Garments were informed orally by management that their employment was terminated effective 3 February with the approval of the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA) chairman. The remaining two executive committee members were issued warning letters by the management stating that "following the findings of the enquiry committee and for your other anti-company activities you are hereby warned for the last time that you do not provoke the workers to go for an illegal strike. If you fail to comply with the above, severe disciplinary action shall be taken against you." No strike had ever been planned. Following the written warning, management prevented the executive committee members from entering the factory.

Another union official was dismissed during the year over a dispute dating back to 2010. In October 2010, BEPZA published a new wage structure for the workers in the EPZs. The management at Dhaka/Beijing Dyeing and Weaving Industries refused to pay workers per the new regulations. The Workers' Welfare Association (WWA) wrote to BEPZA on 25 November 2010 to try to force management to come into line with the new wage structure. While BEPZA resolved the matter, the company fired 24 workers, and, because of their active participation in the WWA, asked Altaf Hossain, the Organising and Publications Secretary of the union, to resign. When Mr. Hossain refused to resign, management, in the presence of BEPZA officials, continued to pressure him to resign. When Mr. Hossain arrived on the premises the next day, management told him that he would not be allowed to work for the company and that if he came again, he would face criminal charges. Mr. Hossain then received a letter dated 16 August 2011 informing him that his services with the company had been terminated, effective 11 August 2011.

Registration applications rejected: The Sinha Group Union, organised by the Bangladesh Garment and Tailors Workers Federation, formed their union on 8 January and filed their registration with the Registrar of Trade Unions on 12 April. The Dhaka Division Registrar rejected the application by letter dated 24 May. Masco Industries, organised by the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation, formed a union on 1 August and filed their registration with the Registrar of Trade Unions on 13 September, with 46.66% of the 600 company workers as union members (280 workers). The Registrar of Trade Unions rejected the application, based on unofficial information. The Crossline Factory Ltd. Workers and Employees Union, organised by the Bangladesh Federation of Workers Solidarity, formed a union on 14 September, with over 50% of the 650 employees as union members (326 members). The Registrar of Trade Unions rejected the application, also based on unofficial information.

Violence against and harassment of workers and trade unionists:

One factory worker employed by Advanced Chemical Industries (ACI) Pharmaceuticals in Narayanganj was killed and at least 100 others injured on 23 January after police fired teargas and rubber bullets on about 400 ACI employees who were protesting the continued use of temporary workers. The worker killed was identified as Mr. Enamul Huq, 25. ACI Pharmaceuticals is one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in Bangladesh. After the attack, local police issued arrest warrants for 130 ACI workers.

On 1 May, the Bangladeshi authorities filed charges against trade union leaders including the President of the Bangladesh Trade Union Federation Faizul Hakim Lala, the General Secretary of Somajtantrik Sramik Front Rajekuzzaman Ratan, and the Bangladesh Trade Union Centre Central Committee member Aslam Khan. The charges alleged violation of sections of the Bangladesh Penal Code relating to unlawful assembly, rioting, assault, assault of a public servant and theft, among others. The charges were filed just days after the leaders attended a meeting on 27 April organised by hotel workers to discuss and demand the implementation of the Minimum Wages and Labour Act, 2006 proclaimed by the Government in 2009.

Police attacks against demonstrating garment workers:

On 10 January, Bangladeshi police and military personnel baton charged and threw tear gas shells at 750 workers from Highlane Sweater (HS) factory at the Adamjee Export Processing Zone (EPZ) in Narayanganj. The workers were protesting to demand the payment of outstanding wages. At least 50 workers were injured in the attack. On 4 January, HS officials closed the factory without notice and failed to pay workers their wages.

On 30 March, police attacked and injured at least 15 protesting garment workers from the Micro Fiber Group at Katherpool District, Sadar. The protest occurred after the workers of Liberty and Midland Knitwears saw a closure notice on the factories following a confrontation between the workers and the owners of the factory regarding the payment of overtime on the previous day.

On 9 June, police baton charged and fired teargas and water cannon at several hundred workers of SQ Sweater Factory in Dhaka who protested after the company terminated 132 workers on 29-30 May for demanding a wage increase. Police arrested six workers at the scene.

During the first week of July, police baton-charged 1,500 striking workers from Deniar Fashion in the Dhaka EPZ in Ashulia. At least 20 workers were seriously injured in the attack. The workers had gone on strike to demand a salary increase.

On 5 July, company thugs Sicotex Fabrics (SF) at Siddhirganj, Narayanganj district, attacked SF workers who demonstrated against SF's acts of violence against workers and the non-payment of wages. At least 15 workers were injured in the attack.

On 20 September, police baton charged Concord Fashion Ltd. and Zicon Garments factory workers who were protesting over unpaid wages for the month of August. At least 20 people, including two policemen, were injured in the attack.

Garment factories lockout workers in Dhaka EPZ: In early February, three garment factories locked out more than 6,600 employees at their factories in the Dhaka Export Processing Zone (DEPZ) in Ashulia after the workers went on strike over unpaid wages and to demand a pay increase. The Fahimi Group locked out its 4,000 workers who struck over unpaid wages. Two Italian-owned factories, Helicon Sweaters and A One BD, closed their factories after 2,600 employees walked off the job to demand a pay increase. On 10 May, Alfa Patten and Alfa Fashion garment workers were locked out for four days after they refused to commence work when management said their wages would not be paid on the due date. According to DEPZ rules, workers have to be paid before the 10th of each month.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

Search Refworld

Countries