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Slow progress in improving labour rights

  • Published at 02:45 am April 8th, 2013
Slow progress in improving labour rights

The government is walking on a thin rope as implementation of the commitments it made to the global community to improve labour rights situation in the country has lost momentum.

As many as 100 days have elapsed since the Rana Plaza caved in and the government has five months left to fulfil certain commitments.

The stakes are too high as it will not only harm over $20bn readymade garment industry and four million jobs but also tarnish the image of Bangladesh.

The government on May 4 gave a commitment to recruit additional 200 inspectors by December but till Aug 2 only four had been appointed. The deadline of April 30 for adopting a national occupational safety and health plan too has passed with no visible headway.

The government spelled out the time-bound commitments twice "“ first after fire incident at Tazreen Fashions and second after Rana Plaza collapse "“ in three broad areas: legislative, administrative and practice. And the scorecard is not satisfactory.

"If the government cannot fulfil the commitment, there will be a disaster," Labour Secretary Mikail Shipar told the Dhaka Tribune on Thursday.

He, however, said the foreign stakeholders would understand if certain conditions cannot be fulfilled.

"It is an ongoing process. If we don't act to fulfil the commitment, then we should be ready for the inevitable consequences," he said: "We are appraising them time to time."

He, however, acknowledged the fact that the foreign stakeholders had a deep mistrust of Bangladesh as it, in the past, committed a lot of things but failed to deliver those.

Commitments

The government committed itself to reforming labour laws and accordingly it did so in July but adoption of the national occupational safety and health plan which was supposed to be completed by April 30 is yet to be readied.

The safety and health plan is currently under final review; the cabinet might take a decision on it after the eid, Mikail said.

The review and adjustment of relevant laws, rules and regulation on fire and building safety has to be done by the deadline of December 31 this year but even a little progress has not been achieved to this end.

The government formed a taskforce on building and fire safety for the readymade garment sector which it is yet to be functional.

The labour ministry has already submitted a proposal to upgrade the inspection department for factories and establishments to a directorate of the public administration ministry.

"The public administration ministry is scrutinising our proposal. They sought clarification three times and we sent our reply," the labour secretary said.

The deadline for meeting the commitment will be over in December but no government allocation has been earmarked for running the directorate in the current budget. "If it is upgraded to directorate, we will get special budget."

The directorate will have 2,291 posts and it must need the approval of the finance ministry.

About the inspector recruitment, the secretary said four had already been appointed and his ministry is trying to recruit another 36 by August.

About the appointment of rest 140 inspectors, Mikail said the department needs to be upgraded before the recruitment.

"We cannot even recruit them on an ad hoc basis as there are not adequate number of posts," he said.

In case the department is not upgraded to directorate, the ministry will have to undertake a project to recruit additional inspectors, he said.

According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the country had 0.242m manufacturing organisations and over 2m shops, restaurants and other service organisation in 2001.

"We have 56 factory inspectors and 39 shop inspectors to cover all the organisations," Mikail said.

The inspection department for factories has offices in four old divisional cities and only one shop inspector each in 20 districts, he added.