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Bangladesh and ILO fall out over new labor law

UN body says law doesn't go far enough

Bangladesh and ILO fall out over new labor law

The ILO says the new labor law fails to address some major issues (photo by Stephan Uttom) reporter, Dhaka

July 24, 2013

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Bangladesh reacted angrily yesterday after the UN International Labor Organization (ILO) issued a statement on Monday criticizing the country’s new labor law. The ILO claims that it falls short of required standards.

Labor Secretary Mikail Shipar said the government had done enough to address the worker safety and labor practice issues that were raised at a meeting in Geneva on July 8 between the Bangladesh government, the ILO and the European Union.

Bangladeshi lawmakers passed the new labor law last week, three weeks after the US government suspended the country’s trade privileges.

The European Union, Bangladesh’s single largest apparel market, also threatened to revoke duty-free access if labor practices and workplace safety were not improved.

The Rana Plaza factory collapse in April and last November’ s Tazreen factory fire, which killed more than 1,200 workers and injured thousands, brought poor labor practices and workplace safety in the country’s US$20-billion garment industry under intense global scrutiny.

The new labor law introduced stricter rules on structural design and safety standards in factories, workers’ right to unionize without approval from factory owners, and mandatory insurance and compensation for sickness and injury. It also gave workers the right to bargain with owners over their demands.

Trade bodies welcomed the new legislation, but rights groups including Human Rights Watch criticized it for failing to protect the basic rights of workers.

However, in a statement on Monday, the ILO said although the labor law did address some of the ILO’s specific concerns, it fell short in several important areas.

“The ILO calls on the government of Bangladesh to take the further steps necessary to fulfil its obligations,” the ILO statement said.

“Conformity of the amended legislation with international labor standards ratified by Bangladesh will be reviewed by the ILO supervisory machinery later in the year,” it added.

Shipar responded yesterday by saying some of the ILO criticisms were not agreed upon at the July 8 meeting.  “So a review on them by the ILO supervisory machinery is not part of the deal,” Shipar said.

Sources at the Labor Ministry say the ILO representative in Bangladesh has been informed of the government’s dissatisfaction with the ILO statement.  

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