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Core international labor standard downfallen; In evidence of Bangladesh

Core International Labor Standards are a set of internationally recognized minimum best practices or safeguards with regard to some basic labor rights. When the standards are ratified by national governments, they constitute binding legal obligations in both national and international law. Core international labor standards are promoted at the domestic level with the presumption that the standard’s provisions would translate into rights for the workers. International labor standards translate into legal rights when those are reflected in national labor laws either because the state has ratified the relevant ILO conventions through legislations or because the national constitution or law confers various labor rights on the workers.

Efforts to implement the core labor standards (CLS) into national legal systems of developing countries have been negatively perceived as ‘anti-business, ‘investment disincentive’, ‘job killer’, or ‘western protectionist measure’.5 However, there is no solid evidence that foreign investors prefer countries with lower labor standards; rather they prefer countries with higher labor standards.6 The challenges of globalization have made the core international labor standards more relevant than ever.

Bangladesh’s labor law system is based on the principle of social justice which also constitutes the cornerstone of ILO’s labor policy.10 It consists of Statutes, Rules, Policies, case laws, and industrial practices. The regulations which predominantly recognize core labor standards are: a) the national Constitution, b) the Labor Act 2006, c) the Labor Rules 2015, d) the EPZ Workers Welfare Association and Industrial Relations Act 2010, e) Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA) Act 1980, f) BEPZA Instruction No 1 & 2 of 1989, g) the National Labor Policy 2012, h) National Child Policy 2011, and i) National Child Labor Elimination Policy 2010. These laws include both substantive and procedural rules prescribing the means to get redress against violations of labor rights. They address two broad categories of labor rights. First, collective labor issues dealing with the tripartite relationship between employees, employers, and unions. Second, individual labor issues concerning individual worker’s rights at work.


An Overall working condition in Bangladesh: Decent work deficit

In spite of a plethora of laws and policies, the overall working condition in Bangladesh poses acute challenges to the effective implementation of CLS within its domestic jurisdiction. There are huge decent work deficits and widespread violations of fundamental labor rights and labor laws in all labor sectors.17 Defects in the labor law system and weak enforcement of standards or non-observance of labor rights have made inroads in transforming the core international labor standards into workers’ rights. Adherence to these standards by employers, regulators, judiciary, or other agencies is often non-existent in the country’s industrial relations system. The workers can hardly enjoy the full-fledged benefits provided by national and international labor rules. Their rights are neither safeguarded nor do their woes get importance by the employers and policymakers. The preference of employers in all private sectors for short-term hiring of young employees has exposed the workers to many work-related risks and injustices. Hardships which the workers in Bangladesh go through include low wages, underpayment, long working hours, unsecured employment structure (non-issuance of appointment letters and identity cards), gender inequality, unsafe working condition, narrow access to social security benefits, de facto censorship on unionism and collective bargaining, and weaker legal protection.

The repression of basic labor rights has led to numerous labor unrest in the country in recent years. The workers are largely unorganized due to dysfunctional trade union culture. Industries and establishments encounter inadequate observance of occupational health and safety standards as well as improper inspection activities. Many hazardous sectors like ship breaking, garments, construction, re-rolling mills, etc. cause casualties and injuries and generate environmental and health risks.19 The basic rights of workers in most labor sectors are disregarded due to the ‘hire and fire’ tactic adopted by the employers. There is no effective mechanism to ensure accountability or responsibility for them.


 Limited scope of labor law

The exclusionary character of Bangladesh’s labor regulations invalidates the basic right of a citizen to have guaranteed employment at reasonable wages as endorsed by the ILO Convention 22 and the Constitution of Bangladesh.21 Due to the limited scope of labor law majority of the labor force are denied their recognition as ‘workers’ and thereby deprived of their fundamental rights at work. This is found to be in common in all South Asian countries. The following incidences demonstrate the limited scope of labor laws of Bangladesh;

five people were killed and many injured as workers clashed with police at an under-construction power plant, owned by S Alam Group and China-based SEPCO3 last week. 

There was unrest among the workers for long time over wages, work hours and torture. 

brother of bullet-hit worker Morshed, said, “Workers protested demanding to reduce work hours today. If their demands were undue, authorities could sack them. Police should not have shot them following orders from influential people.” 

Earlier in 2016, at least four persons were killed and nearly three dozen people injured in another clash between law enforcers and locals over the coal-based power plant sponsored by S Alam Group. Later one more was killed in 2017. 


A boiler explosion at a Bangladeshi garment factory on 3 July 2017 has killed 11 workers and injured at least 50 people. At the time of the explosion, workers at the dyeing section were reportedly engaged in maintenance work on the boiler. The incident took place at the Multifabs Limited garment factory in Gazipur on the outskirts of Dhaka. Multifabs Limited, which supplies knitted apparel to a variety of Western brands and retailers, is covered under the Bangladesh Accord on fire and building safety and has been inspected by Accord engineers.  As a consequence, the factory-installed fire separated from the boiler room and carried out other fire and structural safety renovations.  However, the Accord does not cover boiler inspections, which are monitored by the Bangladesh government.

industrial Global Union also said:

“There is still an enormous amount of work to be done to improve safety in the Bangladeshi garment industry. This latest tragedy underlines the need for the work by the Bangladesh Accord to continue, and union signatories to The Accord will demand that it be expanded to include boiler safety as soon as possible.” 

Fortunately, at the time of the accident, most of the company’s workforce of around 3,500 people were on Eid vacation and not due to resume work until 4 July. According to reports, the exploded boiler’s validity had expired on 24 June and it was not renewed. 

 Earlier of 2013   Bangladesh once again: A building that housed multiple garment factories in Savar, Bangladesh, collapsed the morning of April 24. The final death toll is estimated at 1,127 people, mostly women, with another 1,200. According to media reports, employees were ordered to work even though visible cracks had been discovered in the eight-story building the day before.

The garment industry in Bangladesh has a long history of deadly accidents, fires, and poor working conditions. In November 2012, 117 workers perished in a massive fire at Tazreen Fashions, a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in what is called the nation’s worst and most fatal factory fire. That fire was ruled to stem from the employer’s “gross negligence” and went as far as to suggest that it was an act of sabotage.

The labor relation system of Bangladesh has been proved ineffective due to its inherent shortcomings, exclusionary and exploitative nature, lacking mandatory mechanisms, the inappropriate cost burden on workers, lengthy bureaucratic procedures, and lacking worker-friendly remedial instruments. Such attributes have emerged due to the acts or omissions by the state and non-state actors and verily prove to the fact that these are the areas where the conflicting interests of workers and employers are poorly balanced.

By Sanjida Jannat

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