EU, US check on Bangladesh’s labour rights, work safety issues on Rana Plaza anniversary

  • Senior Correspondent,
    Published: 2015-04-24 21:23:43 BdST

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The EU and the US have jointly taken stock of Bangladesh’s labour safety and rights issues on the second anniversary of Rana Plaza collapse.

They on Friday observed “urgent” work remained to be done.
They also took note of the progresses that had been made and said their “commitment to Bangladesh is strong and enduring”.
With close cooperation with the ILO, they promised to remain “closely” engaged with the government in the spirit of “partnership”. 
The engagement is to ensure that “economic growth and sustainable development go hand-in-hand with workers’ safety and rights”.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, US Trade Representative Michael Froman, and USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt signed the statement on behalf of Washington.
High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility Marianne Thyssen, EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström, and EU Commissioner in charge of International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica signed the statement from the Brussels side.
The worst-ever building collapse on Apr 24, 2003 killed more than 1,100 workers in Rana Plaza at Savar on the outskirts of Dhaka.
It evoked a worldwide concern over Bangladesh’s factory safety and workers’ rights.

The 28-nation EU is the largest market for Bangladesh’s clothing industry, where all its products enjoy duty-free access.

The US is the single largest export destination. But Washington has revoked the GSP privilege that a few Bangladeshi products were enjoying ever since the disaster.

But after the building collapse, they jointly with the ILO rolled out a set of plans styled ‘Sustainability Compact for Bangladesh’ for ensuring workers rights, and safety in the clothing industry.

Bangladesh government, factory owners, and labour groups committed to implement those measures to bring about a “lasting transformation” in the sector.

The Friday’s joint statement reviewed those commitments to ascertain progresses and way forward.

“We join the people of Bangladesh in mourning those who lost their lives and remain mindful of the difficult struggle for those who survived,” read the statement.

Over the past two years, Bangladesh has amended its labour law to strengthen certain aspects of freedom of association, collective bargaining and occupational health and safety.

A “significant” number of new factory inspectors have been recruited and their training begun, according to the statement.

Fire and structural safety assessments have begun along with the online posting of factory safety information.

A hotline to report labour concerns has been established and approximately 300 new trade unions have been registered.

The EU and the US leaders also lauded private initiatives’ --the Accord and the Alliance – inspection of structural and fire safety of over 2,000 RMG factories, and related closure of over 30 factories.

But significant work remains to be done under the ‘Sustainability Compact’ to realise its goals.

They particularly mentioned that the government should continue reforming its labour laws with ILO support, complete the safety inspections of all RMG factories and continue to register unions in “a timely and transparent way”.

“We urge the government to issue –without further delays– the implementing rules for Bangladesh Labour Act, consistent with international labour standards,” read the statement.

Similarly, they also call upon the government to enact legislation on EPZs that ensures workers inside the zones enjoy equal rights with those outside the zones.

The government should respond swiftly to cases of unfair labour practices, violence, and harassment against trade unions and workers’ representatives.

These, they said, were issues of “pressing concern”.

“We note that advances in health, safety, and labour rights will remain fragile and impermanent if workers are unable to exercise those rights and organise to represent their interests and concerns.”

They said they would remain closely engaged with the government in the spirit of “partnership” to continue those committed works together.