Is the campaign for workers’ rights, higher wages & safety over in Bangladesh?
No, of course it isn’t. Since the Rana Plaza factory collapse at the end of April, enormous strides forward have been made, and the ready-made garment industry in Bangladesh, which employs 4 million people on some of the lowest wages in the world, has stayed in the news. It is vital that we keep it there, to keep up the pressure for change.
Unions around the world are still pressing transnational manufacturing and retail corporates to sign the union-inspired Accord for Fire and Building Safety which is now in its implementation phase with over 80 companies signed up. It was great news that American Eagle agreed with US unions to sign up this month, and it’s a disgrace that Topshop still hasn’t. The attempt by Gap and Walmart to organise a voluntary, union-free, penny pinching alternative is disreputable.
And it isn’t just corporates who need to be pushed harder. The Government of Bangladesh has revised the labour law to give unions more freedom to organise, workers more rights to protest, and a higher minimum wage. But the garment manufacturing companies still rule the roost and the International Labour Organisation says that even the improvements to the law are not enough.
We want more corporates signed up to the Accord and more pressure on the Government of Bangladesh.
Compensation payments for the families of the Tazreen fire and the Rana Plaza collapse victims are still too slow, and global union federation IndustriALL will be taking action in August to make sure people get what they are due. We need to make sure that real change happens before the US restores trade privileges, and the EU needs to get tougher using theirs.
And we need to keep up the pressure for adequate labour law, because that is what will provide working people with the permanent power to ensure safety and keep wages rising. Even under the new law, entire categories of workers, such as the hundreds of thousands employed in the country’s export processing zones, are still prohibited from forming a union. Safety and labour inspection is still inadequate, and past atrocities against union organisers like Aminul Islam, who was tortured and killed for his organising activities, are still unresolved.
As ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said last week:
“Bangladesh’s workers and the international community had high expectations that the government would finally legislate to protect the rights of workers. It appears that once again factory owners triumphed over their employees through backroom lobbying and their own political power as members of parliament. While the new law does reflect some positive changes, including on occupational safety and health, the government largely failed to make good on its obligations to improve fundamental workers’ rights.”