Bangladesh agrees on action plan to improve working conditions, ILO says

A female employee at a garment factory in Gazipur, Bangladesh. UN Photo/Kibae Park

4 May 2013 – Bangladeshi lawmakers will receive an agreed upon labour reform package as soon as next month to improve the nation's working conditions, the United Nations labour organization today said wrapping up a high-level visit to the South Asian country still reeling from the deadly collapse of a garment factory.

The package “would improve protection, in law and practice, for the fundamental rights to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, as well as occupational safety and health,” the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) said in a joint statement issued also on behalf of the tripartite partners, who include representatives of the Government, employers and workers.

ILO and its tripartite partners also urged an assessment by the end of the year of the “structural building safety and fire safety of all active export-oriented ready-made garment factories in Bangladesh, and initiate remedial actions, including relocation of unsafe factories,” according to the statement.

“The tripartite partners call on the ILO to assist in the mobilisation of the technical and financial resources required to undertake the assessment.”

Among other suggestions for short and medium-term improvements agreed upon during the 1-4 May ILO visit, the group called for the hiring of 200 additional inspectors within six months and a budget increase for 800 inspectors, as well as skills and retraining programmes for injured workers.

At least 345 people were killed and thousands injured when the eight-storey Rana Plaza building collapsed on 24 April on the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka. Another 100 people were killed in recent fire accidents at Tazreen Fashions Limited and Smart Export Garments. The incidents spurred an outcry of support, including from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the ILO.

Addressing senior Government officials in Dhaka on 1 May or May Day – a historic day for workers' solidarity – Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, ILO Deputy Director General of Field Operations and Partnerships and head of the ILO high-level visit, reiterated the UN's commitment to support Bangladesh on steps taken to advance the rights of workers but cautioned about the need to address the challenges that remain.

“There is a high road to export competitiveness that leads to inclusive growth and poverty reduction. There is a low road to competiveness too. However it leads to the tragedies you are living with today,”stressed Mr. Houngbo.

“It is not a road out of poverty. It is a trap where low productivity, poor working conditions, low value-added production block social and economic progress.”


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