Bangladesh: New evidence of systematic violations of workers’ rights exposes inaction of government

photo: AFP

New evidence of violations of workers’ rights in Bangladesh in three major economic sectors – the ready-made garment, shipbreaking, and leather sectors – reveals the impact of government inaction on the lives of working people.

The report, released ahead of the government’s latest progress report to the ILO Governing Body next week, shows the human face of a government’s failure to put in place labour protections.

Interviews with workers in October and November 2021 show the systematic violations of rights, exposing:

  • unfair labour practices;
  • anti-union discrimination;
  • unsafe workplaces;
  • violence against workers; and
  • non-payment of wages and benefits.

Workers do not have a safe complaints mechanism, and calling for grievances to be resolved often results in verbal and physical abuse from the employer and dismissal.

“Obstruction and refusal by the government of Bangladesh to improve conditions put workers’ lives at risk. Every day they delay on commitments to reform, another worker and the worker’s family feel the pain of inaction.

“As the government of Bangladesh prepares to update the ILO Governing Body on the progress of reform, anti-union discrimination, wage discrimination and unsafe working conditions continue to be reported in three of the country’s largest employment sectors – the ready-made garment, shipbreaking and leather (tannery) sectors,” said Sharan Burrow.

Biplob, a 40-year-old ready-made-garment worker, was one of eleven union members blindfolded and kidnapped days after union registration was obtained; the kidnapping was an attempt to intimidate workers in the newly formed union.

Shampa, 27, was threatened with dismissal when she asked for maternity benefits that were promised to her.

Zaman, a 49-year-old leather worker, reported that workers laid off during the pandemic got their jobs back but they are no longer on permanent contracts.

The ITUC is calling on the government of Bangladesh to:

  • improve job security;
  • uphold the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining;
  • introduce a national minimum wage;
  • make workplaces safe; and
  • eliminate harassment, discrimination and abuse against women workers.

“The government of Bangladesh must immediately set up a transparent and effective monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the ILO road map and meaningfully consult with tripartite constituents on all the action points,” said Sharan Burrow.

The ITUC has identified ten areas of inaction by the Bangladeshi government against which it must report progress in March 2022.

  1. Where tripartite monitoring or consultative committees were to be set up, the conditions precedent for meaningful and productive consultations or effective monitoring were non-existent, including a published schedule of meetings, meeting notices, list of issues and relevant briefing documents.
  2. Occupational health and safety modalities for the export processing zones have not been adopted, and the EPZ authorities still have power over labour inspectors and OSH officers, contrary to ILO Convention 81 and in the face of reports of occupational injuries and deaths.
  3. Labour inspection systems are not adequately resourced, and sufficient personnel have not been recruited.
  4. Independent unions are still denied registration and are discriminated against.
  5. No steps have been taken to address anti-union discrimination, unfair labour practices and violence against workers.
  6. There is no database for complaints of anti-union discrimination, unfair labour practices and attacks against unions.
  7. A long backlog of labour disputes remains, with growing complaints of corruption and injustice regarding the judiciary.
  8. There is growing intolerance by the security forces for the exercise of trade union rights and activities.
  9. The police and other security forces have not been held accountable for the attacks during the Ashulia demonstrations of 2016 and 2019, and the government has failed to institute an independent inquiry as recommended by the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association.
  10. No mechanism has been established to provide regular information to workers on their rights and on how to lodge complaints and access legal support in case of violations.


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