The recent passage of the Bangladesh Labour (Amendment) Bill-2023 on November 2 has left labour leaders voicing their reservations. While the amendment addresses certain issues, major concerns remain unattended, sparking discussions within the workforce.
Among the positive changes, the amendment includes workers in the agricultural sector and replaces ‘Mohila’ with ‘Nari’—a step towards gender inclusivity. However, significant issues like unionisation in Export Processing Zones (EPZs), hindrances to forming and registering trade unions in factories, the right to strike, and six months of maternity leave are yet to be tackled.
One contentious aspect is the provision obligating the consent of 20% of workers for forming unions in factories with fewer than 3,000 workers and 15% for factories with more than 3,000 workers. Critics argue that this threshold could restrict union formation.
The extension of maternity leave by eight days, from 112 to 120 days, has also sparked debate. Labour rights advocate Kalpona Akter, the founder and executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity, emphasises the need to reduce obstacles in forming trade unions, following international labour standards.
Economist Dr. Sayema Haque Bidisha supports this sentiment, highlighting the importance of preserving workers’ rights to unionise and strike, even if it occasionally leads to disputes. She underlines the significance of adhering to International Labour Organization (ILO) standards in such cases.
The contentious issue of unionisation in EPZs remains a focal point, as labour leaders argue that there should be a uniform law for all workers, whether in EPZs or general sectors.
Chowdhury Ashikul Islam, a labour leader who was part of the tripartite labour law review committee, reveals that the committee’s discussions did not result in agreement on numerous issues, which were meant to be addressed in further meetings. However, the amendment was tabled in parliament before these discussions could take place.
The definition of a labourer, the inclusion of new employment sectors (like food delivery, tourism, and hospitality), and major demands from workers were left unaddressed. While some positives, such as changes in terminology and the inclusion of agricultural workers, were acknowledged, the core concerns of workers were seemingly ignored.
The extension of maternity leave, despite its increase by eight days, fell short of expectations. Advocates argue that factory workers should have six months of maternity leave, aligning with international norms. The provision allowing the auto-dismissal of workers after 10 consecutive days of absence has also come under fire. Critics call for a right to explanation before dismissal.
The ineffectiveness of anti-harassment committees in factories has been a recent concern. A study revealed their inadequate functioning, yet the latest bill failed to address this issue satisfactorily.
The Business Standard attempted to obtain opinions from several BGMEA directors and garment owners regarding the amendment, but none responded.
Our experts analysed the Bangladesh labour law amendment, and stated that, ‘While the amendment reflects some progress, it falls short in addressing crucial labour issues. Workers deserve robust legal protection and a voice in their rights. It is crucial to ensure that the law aligns with international standards’.
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