The EPZ Labour Law 2016
It is encouraging to note that at a recent cabinet meeting workers right to form trade unions in the country’s Export Processing Zones (EPZs) has been guaranteed with the approval of the Bangladesh EPZ Labour Law, 2016. The new law also guarantees a permanent wage board for the workers. Besides, there are many other positive sides of the law. In case of on-duty death of a worker, the law stipulates that his or her family members will get compensation of Tk 2 lakh and an amount of Tk 2.25 lakh in case of his or her ‘permanent’ or ‘complete’ disability.
Under the new law, the EPZ workers will also get retirement benefits, mandatory group insurance, cash payment for earned leave, paying full salary as festival bonus and maternity leave for 16 weeks. Now that the EPZ Labour Law has been passed, it is expected that the worker’s organisations in the EPZs, which will be named as Sramik Kalyan Samity, will conduct their activities of trade unions responsibly so that EPZs do not become venues for mindless work stoppage programmes that in the final analysis both harms the owners of factories as well as workers.
It is also expected that as per provision of the law, a 12-member permanent wage board comprising the representatives from workers and investors as well as representative from a neutral source will be formed soon and fix the minimum wages for the benefits of workers. Passing of the law would mean nothing unless its letters and spirit are followed without any hindrance.
The cabinet committee’s approval of workers’ right to do trade unionism should now go well with the external critics who often criticises the absence of trade unions in Bangladesh’s industrial set-ups at large. Since the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013 that killed more than 1000 people; Bangladesh became a target of attack from the US and European buyers of Bangladesh’s readymade garments. The Bangladesh EPZ Labour Law 2016 will indeed present the government in a more positive light. It proves that the government here is really serious about the overall welfare of the workers.
However, as the most important stakeholders, workers at the EPZs must remain on guard so that vested persons or groups do not hijack their new-found freedom of forming trade unions. It is their responsibility to choose the right persons as their leaders who not only love the workers but also understand well how their genuinely rights they can practically ensure for them.