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ILO Assails Bangladesh Over Labor Rights

Committee of Experts says reforms are needed.

GENEVA — A report by an International Labor Organization special committee issued Thursday faulted the government of Bangladesh for failing to ensure the rights of trade unionists, notably in the garment sector, and in export processing zones.

It also noted that numerous provisions of the Bangladesh 2006 Labor Act were not in conformity with the ILO Convention (87) on freedom of association, to which Bangladesh is a signatory.

In its conclusions, the ILO called on the government “to take the necessary measures to ensure that workers and employers can exercise their freedom of association rights in a climate that is free from threats, pressure and intimidation of any kind, and to carry out independent investigations into the allegations of arrest, harassment and violence against trade unionists.”

The special panel, called the Committee of Experts, is comprised of 20 eminent jurists appointed by the ILO Governing Body for three-year terms. The experts come from different geographic regions, legal systems and cultures. The committee’s role is to provide an impartial and technical evaluation of the state of application of international labor standards.

The experts also took note of important commitments made by the government of Bangladesh “to bring the law and practice into conformity with the convention,” and urged the government to ensure that the amendments to the Labor Act “were adopted without delay and addressed the numerous issues raised by the committee.”

The amendments are currently before the Bangladesh Parliament, but global trade union leaders say they don’t go far enough.

The ILO experts also stressed full respect for freedom of association “can make a significant contribution towards the effective protection of workers’ safety.” The committee called on Bangladesh to seek technical assistance from the ILO to help ensure that workers in EPZs were fully guaranteed their rights under the convention. Workers in EPZs at present can belong to welfare associations, but not trade unions. However, the government has announced this law will expire in 2014, and EPZs will come under the purview of the Labor Act.

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