'Labour law amendment key to GSP Plus'

DHAKA  (The Daily Star/ANN) - Discussion on emerging labour standard demand in view of Bangladesh's LDC graduation and SDG implementation held.

The amendment to the labour law and its proper implementation is key for Bangladesh to achieving the “GSP Plus” benefit from the European Union following the country's graduation to a developing nation, said an economist yesterday.

The EU grants the generalised system of preferences plus trade privilege to developing countries if they fulfil four core conditions that deal with human rights, labour rights, environmental and governance issues.

Besides, Bangladesh will have to ratify 27 core conventions of the International Labour Organisation if Bangladesh wants to be eligible for the tariff benefit.

Bangladesh would have to raise its labour law to international standards and implement it properly to obtain the GSP plus status following its graduation from the least developed country category, said Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).

The country is in advantageous position in regard to updating the labour law as the government is simultaneously working to meet the conditions of the Sustainability Compact, a US-provided Bangladesh Action Plan and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“However, the existing SDG targets and indicators set by the government are insufficient to cover all the related issues and concerns.”

Moazzem's comments came at a dialogue on “emerging labour standard demand in view of Bangladesh's LDC graduation and SDG implementation” at the Khazana Gardenia Hotel in Dhaka yesterday. The CPD organised the event.   The improved compliance of Bangladesh will have to be passed by the EU parliament, said Abu Syed Belal, trade adviser to the EU delegation in Bangladesh.

“So, Bangladesh should improve the compliance to enjoy the trade benefit,” he added.

The government is working to amend the Bangladesh Labour Act and formulate the export processing zones labour act, said Md Mujibul Haque, state minister for labour and employment.

“We have decided to incorporate the provisions for labour inspection in the EPZs by the Inspector General along with other inspectors under the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 and the existing robust inspection system of the BEPZA.”

After consultations with social partners, the government has decided to reduce the minimum support needed to form a trade union to 20 percent from 30 percent stipulated by the existing law, Haque said.

So far, Bangladesh has ratified 35 ILO conventions, including seven of the eight core conventions.

The government is in talks with stakeholders to ratify the ILO core convention 138, which deals with the minimum age for admission to employment, he added.

The discussion on emerging labour standards has changed a lot over the years, said Debapriya Bhattacharya, a distinguished fellow of the CPD.

Before the seminal event of Rana Plaza collapse, labour issues were discussed in a very shy and defensive attitude. “This is a major progress in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has become more proactive, more candid and more open in terms of having this discussion.”

“I think this is a significant achievement in terms of changing mindset. And obviously compliments go to employers, labour leaders and other stakeholders, including civil societies,” he added.

Farooq Ahmed, secretary-general of the Bangladesh Employers Federation, suggested the government bring workers in the informal sector to the formal sector to ensure more compliance.

“Domestic workers are the most neglected ones in the country. There is no protection for them,” said Wajedul Islam Khan, general secretary of the Bangladesh Trade Union Kendra.

Bangladesh has made good progress in workplace safety, said Gagan Rajbhandari, officer-in-charge of the ILO Bangladesh. “I am confident that Bangladesh can continue to improve working conditions,” he added.

As much as 90 percent of the factory remediation has been completed, said Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

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