Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bangladesh union restrictions lifted after pressure

Only just discovered that Bangladesh garment workers are not allowed to form trade unions without prior permission from factory owners.  Perhaps I haven't being paying close enough attention and allowed myself to be misled by the impressive demonstrations following the Rana Plaza factory collapse. (By yesterday afternoon, at least 1,127 people were confirmed to have died - New York Times, 13th May.)
Another Bangladesh clothing factory disaster. Workers outside a building in Dhaka which caught fire. Credit: Ismail Ferdous/AP
Anyhow, all this is set to change. According to The Guardian (and other media including CTV news) there is an old law requiring workers to obtain permission before they could unionize. "No such permission from owners is now needed," a government spokesman is quoted saying. "The government is doing it for the welfare of the workers."

The New York Times has a different emphasis. Permission from owners isn't mentioned; but a list of names of those who want a union has to be submitted to the labour ministry who then pass it on to the employer who is thereby handed a useful tool for harassment and intimidation. This will now stop apparently. The New York Times says the new initiatives are “partly in response to outrage over conditions in the country’s garment sector” after the Rana Plaza collapse.

I'm not clear from reports whether the restrictions on unions are specific to the garment industry. Bangladesh is the world’s third largest exporter of garments and a government minister is quoted as calling the industry “the goose that lays the golden egg”.

Yet despite non-unionisation, protests by garment workers in 2010 achieved an 80% hike in the minimum wage to 3,000 takas ($38/£25) a month, according to The Guardian

A momentous deal

Since 2005, at least 1,800 garment workers have been killed in factory fires and building collapses in Bangladesh. This is from research by the advocacy group International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF).  I presume this figure includes the 1,127. Meanwhile War on Want is trumpeting the news that global retailers, including Primark, H&M, Tesco, Zara and C&A, have all signed the Bangladesh Safety Accord. War on Want regards this as "a momentous deal" and believes the retailers bowed to pressure from campaigners in the west disgusted by reports of the Rana Plaza collapse.

By the way the other day I was puzzling where to send money (see post below this). Maybe War on Want and the ILRF would be a start.  Thanks to Ben for some of these links, and links that led to links.