Bangladesh: Abuse of workers’ rights on increase, warns ITUC


Labour rights are deteriorating in Bangladesh, despite government promises to commit to an International Labour Organization (ILO) road map for reform. While the last 18 months of the Covid-19 pandemic have been a period of crisis for workers, the pattern of abuse for workers’ rights has been entrenched for years.

  • Bangladesh has been rated 5 – no guarantee of rights – for the past eight years. It is one of the ten worst countries in the world for working people in 2021, according to the ITUC Global Rights Index.
  • Bangladesh shipbreaking yards have seen a record-breaking number of fatalities this quarter. The NGO Shipbreaking Platform said seven workers lost their lives while scrapping vessels – the worst quarter in terms of the number of accidents in Bangladeshi shipbreaking history.

“Repressive laws, obstacles to union formation, and brutal repression of strikes make Bangladesh one of the worst countries in the world for working people.

"Workers attempting to form and join trade unions are regularly met with employer threats, physical violence, and mass dismissals. Even where workers succeed in forming a union, registration can be arbitrarily denied by the authorities.

"Between 2010 and 2021, more than 1,100 union registration applications were lodged with the authorities. The Department of Labour rejected 46% of them – an extraordinarily high rejection rate, denying workers a voice and the right to form and join a union,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary.

As the government of Bangladesh prepares to update the ILO Governing Body on 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 – ready-made garments, shipbreaking, and the leather (tannery) sector.

“The government of Bangladesh must immediately set up a transparent and effective monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the ILO roadmap and meaningfully consult with tripartite constituents on all the action points.

"Good faith social dialogue must be the basis for upholding workers’ rights and negotiating settlements to grievances.

"Since the Rana Plaza tragedy of 2013, the government of Bangladesh has failed to implement commitments it has made to respect international labour standards and improve the working and living conditions of workers in Bangladesh. The government must take this seriously and must fully, completely and in a timely manner implement the ILO road map and the EU national action plan,” said Sharan Burrow.

When the government of Bangladesh stands up to speak at the ILO Governing Body on Saturday, the voices of workers cannot be silenced.

Thirty-five thousand Bangladeshis die at work every year, and eight million are injured. Sexual violence is rife, millions of workplaces are barely monitored by government labour inspectors, and people are trapped in jobs with poverty wages.

“With a three-year wait for court justice, and half of unions blocked, time’s up for the government of Bangladesh. Workers want a better Bangladesh, fair pay, to be safe at work, and a voice,” said Burrow.