EU calls for urgent release of Bangladesh union leaders

DHAKA (The Daily Star/ANN) - At present, Bangladesh enjoys duty-free access for its shipments to the European Union.

The Sustainability Compact partners yesterday urged the government to immediately review the cases filed against union leaders for their alleged involvement in labour unrest at Ashulia in December last year for continuation of trade privileges to the EU.

At present, Bangladesh enjoys duty-free access for its shipments to the European Union.

After the Rana Plaza building collapse, Bangladesh signed the International Labour Organisation-brokered Sustainability Compact with the EU committing to responsible business behaviour, strengthening workplace safety and improving the labour right in 2013.

Later, the US and Canada joined the Sustainability Compact.

The Compact partners made the demand at the third round of Sustainability Compact meetings, held at the capital's Radisson Blu Water Garden hotel.

“We note with concern the events at the end of last year in Ashulia in which labour leaders were arrested and hundreds of workers were dismissed from their jobs,” said Mark Linscott, an assistant United States Trade Representative.

“We call on the factory owners to reinstate those workers who were terminated as agreed in the tripartite MoU,” he added.

A tripartite agreement was reached on February 23 between IndustriALL Bangladesh Council, the labour ministry and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, providing for the release of the arrested trade unionists and workers. The cases against them will also be disposed of.

The partners recognised the urgent need to further address acts of discrimination against trade unionists and to effectively investigate and prosecute unfair labour practices in a timely and transparent manner. 

They also suggested simplification of trade union rules for factories housed at export processing zones and urged the government to amend the labour law and EPZ law to allow workers the full freedom of association.

In the joint statement, the partners also urged retailers to adopt responsible business conduct practices and a uniform code of conduct for factory audits in Bangladesh.

Recognising the significant contribution of the Accord, Alliance and national initiative in enhancing workplace safety, the partners urged the government to commence inspection of factories that have not been reviewed yet by experts.

Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed said the government has already withdrawn the draft copy of the EPZ law from the parliament for further review.

“We made a lot of progress in workplace safety and labour rights after the Rana Plaza building collapse.  I hope the EU will continue our trade privilege,” Ahmed added.

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