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Protect garment workers rights

HRW urges BD govt to prevent owners from intimidating labour leaders for organising TUs

By STAFF REPORTER
07th-Feb-2014       
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Human Rights Watch [HRW], a New York-based international rights organization, has urged the Bangladesh government to prevent garment factory owners from intimidating and threatening workers for organizing trade unions.
Urging the Bangladesh government to prosecute those responsible for attacks on labor leaders, the HRW also said that foreign buyers, including major US and European retailers, should ensure that their Bangladeshi suppliers respect labor rights.
In a report released on Thursday, the HRW said: "The Bangladeshi government should stop garment factory owners from intimidating and threatening workers for organizing trade unions, and prosecute those responsible for attacks on labor leaders."
 "The government and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association [BGMEA] should ensure compliance with the labour law, and sanction companies which abuse worker rights," it added.
Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW, said: "The best way to avoid future Rana Plaza-type disasters and end the exploitation of Bangladeshi workers is to encourage the establishment of independent trade unions to monitor and protect workers' rights. The government has belatedly begun to register unions, which is an important first step, but it now needs to ensure that factory owners stop persecuting their leaders and actually allow them to function."
 "It is now time for those in the Bangladeshi garment industry to wake up and realize that they are endangering their business if they do not comply with what the US, the EU, and their own government are demanding," Adams said. "But unfortunately, some garment factory owners are continuing their narrow focus of renewed anti-union action based on seeing unions as a threat to their control."
The HRW made some recommendations to the Bangladeshi government to ensure labour rights. These include: 1) Effectively enforce the labor law and amend it to comply with international standards. 2) Ensure workers' rights to form unions and increase factory inspections. 3) Investigate allegations against factory owners who engage in anti-union activity. 4) Investigate all allegations of beatings, threats, and abuse by workers and prosecute those responsible.      
Besides, it also advised BGMEA to support the establishment of independent trade unions in members' factories and discourage the setting up of so-called "yellow factories. And work with the International Labour Organization to educate factory owners in the benefits of having independent trade unions and improved labor relations.
It urged the international apparel brands to encourage Bangladeshi factories to protect worker rights and improve factory inspections and publish findings to ensure factories comply with brands' codes of conduct and the Bangladesh Labor Law.
HRW operators interviewed 47 workers in 21 factories in and around Dhaka to prepare the report from October 2013 onwards while the workers had claimed that some managers intimidate and mistreat employees involved in setting up unions, including threatening to kill them.
Labor activists also complained the HRW that some of the unions in factories are not genuinely independent, but are so-called "yellow unions" that have been established by the factory owners themselves to control workers and prevent them from establishing or joining the union of their choice.
Some union organizers had informed the HRW that they were beaten up, and others said they had lost their jobs or had been forced to resign. Besides, the factory owners sometimes used local gangsters to threaten or attack workers outside the workplace, including at their homes.
In this regard, the HRW also mentioned section 195 of the Bangladesh Labor Act [2006, amended 2013], which already outlawed numerous "unfair labor practices. The labor law was amended in July 2013 after widespread criticism following the collapse of the Rana Plaza building, which killed more than 1,100 garment workers.
The Labour Ministry had previously refused to register all but a handful of unions, but the amendments have made it easier for unions to be formed. More than 50 factory-level unions have been established, but since the law still requires union organizers to get the support of 30% of the factory's workers before registering a union, employer threats and intimidation make it a difficult task, especially in factories employing thousands of people.

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