The government is going to amend its existing labour laws to accommodate some suggestions on labour right issues from the European Union (EU) and International Labour Organisation (ILO). The aim of the move is to ensure that Bangladesh is able to enjoy the continued duty-free access of its exports to the European markets under the EU’s Generalised System of Preference (GSP). Notably, the country’s labour laws have been undergoing changes over the past few years. The 2013’s Rana Plaza collapse brought the issue of labour rights especially in the Readymade Garment (RMG) sector, under closer scrutiny of the government as well as the international labour rights bodies. Understanding the sensitivities of the European and American markets, the major export destinations of the RMG products, to the workers’ condition and their rights, some changes were made in the labour laws. Again in 2018, the government made some more amendments to the labour laws. Meanwhile, by the end of 2019, the EU came up with the idea that Bangladesh prepared a time-bound draft roadmap on labour law reforms. To this end, they suggested a list of labour right issues to be addressed to retain trade benefits under the so-called EBA (everything but arms) initiative. Responding positively, the government has provided it (EU) with an action plan.
However, further progress in the work could not be made during 2020 for understandable reasons. In line with recently held talks with the EU on the subject, the work on making further amendments to the labour rules, the Labour Act and the EPZ Labour Act laws have again started in full swing. The task is required to be completed so as to meet the European Commission (EC)’s finalisation of new GSP regulations in November. What is noteworthy too, the areas of concern for the EU and ILO also involve some more issues. Those, among others, include an action plan to eliminate child labour by 2025, combating violence against workers, removing case backlogs in labour courts, ratifying ILO conventions on minimum age and forced labour protocol. To carry forward the work, the government has formed a 13-member tripartite committee headed by the Ministry of labour and employment (Mole). Representatives from industries and labour organisations concerned will also join the committee as members. Hopefully, the committee being so formed would be able to conform, by and large, to the standards set by the EU to meet its new GSP regulation requirements. Apart from meeting the GSP-specific labour law reforms as sought from the EU’s end, Bangladesh has also a huge stake in bringing its labour laws up to international standards. And that is more so at a time when our RMG products are facing tougher competition from some Southeast Asian competitors in the EU including other Western markets.
There is hardly any scope for compromising on standards when it comes to labour rights or quality of products. Therefore, it is in Bangladesh’s best interest that she extends maximum cooperation to her European partners in matters that have especial relevance to uninterrupted exports to their markets. There is no denying that the issues in question have become critical when the pandemic has caused to shrink the markets considerably in Europe and the Americas. In such uncertain times, the need to up the antes on the standards regarding the issues of concern abroad cannot be overemphasised.