Unions under attack in Bangladesh; 7 million children at work

The new ITUC report on core labour standards in Bangladesh, published on the occasion of World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) review of its trade policies, reveals grave problems with violations of freedom of association, the right to collectively bargain, child labour and forced labour.

The report finds that the law of Bangladesh does not adequately provide for freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike. The law establishes excessive requirements and complicated procedures in order to register a trade union and, in practice, the registrar rejects many applications. Bangladesh is rife with anti-union practices by employers including threats, dismissals, legal suits against unionists and intimidation. The police use excessive force to disperse protesting workers in some cases causing deaths and often injuries. Export Processing Zones (EPZs) in the country fall under a special labour legislation whereby basic rights are not permitted. Workers in these areas are prevented from organising and bargaining collectively. For many years, the ILO has recommended numerous amendments to the law to bring it into compliance with the relevant international core labour conventions, No. 87 and No. 98, but the government has yet to heed those proposals.

Women are not protected against sexual harassment at the workplace, the extent of which is a serious problem in Bangladesh. Women face a large gender pay gap and tend to be concentrated in low paid sectors of the economy.

Child labour is an alarming problem in Bangladesh with seven million children in work of whom some 1.3 million are engaged in the worst forms of child labour. Children perform a wide range of work in all sectors. Moreover, the laws do not protect migrating workers from fraudulent recruitment, and many such workers are coerced into bonded labour. There are reports of authorities’ and politicians’ complicity with organised crime in labour trafficking.

Read the full report