From the TUC

‘UDITA’ film shows need for labour law reform in Bangladesh

07 May 2015, By

You can now watch on the TUC’s website the new documentary UDITA (ARISE) made by  Rainbow Collective about the struggles that women trade unionists in the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) have faced in Bangladesh over the last five years.

The film premiered on the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse on April 24th at an event hosted by Unite Tower Hamlets Community branch in partnership with War on Want and the TUC.

TUC Aid is currently supporting NGWF to run a leadership development programme for female members which is designed to tackle the fact that women make up the majority (85%) of the workforce in the garment industry but are under-represented in union leadership.

This is partly due to the harassment that women union leaders face, which can include sexual assault as Human Rights Watch has reported. Without women leaders, however, it is more difficult for women to tackle the harassment and poor conditions they face at work.

UDITA shows women workers speaking of abuse they’ve faced at the factory for being in a union, while one woman in the film is warned by her husband that she will be sacked if she is seen by the boss as a ‘troublemaker’ in a union.

As the ITUC highlighted last month, two years after the Rana Plaza collapse, the government of Bangladesh has made woeful progress on reforming the labour law to allow freedom of association and address anti trade union violence.

Yet the women in UDITA will not be discouraged, as they know that being part of a union is the only way they can overcome the serious problems they face at work with unsafe conditions, low pay and very long hours.

One worker says she only gets to see her baby for one hour a day when she gets home in the evening, and then he’s asleep.

Many of the concerns highlighted by the ITUC about the lack of union rights in Bangladesh were also reflected in the EU’s own assessment of Bangladesh’s poor progress on reforms to its labour law which it committed to under the ‘Sustainability Compact’ trade preference agreement.

It was encouraging to see the European Parliament passed a resolution last week which also highlighted the inadequacies of the labour law in Bangladesh and stated it:

 ‘calls on the [European] Commission to establish whether Bangladesh is adhering to human rights, labour and environmental conventions under the GSP [trade preference regime] and to report back to Parliament’.

The underlying message to the Government of Bangladesh here is that if improvements aren’t made to the law to make sure workers rights are respected, then they may lose their trade preferences. This is important as we know that the removal of trade preferences to Bangladesh by the USA played an important part in reforms being made to the law in Bangladesh to allow unions in the garment sector in 2013.

UDITA shows that women in trade unions in Bangladesh have grown in confidence hugely in five years and closes with a triumphant scene of a female NGWF member leading a rally for higher wages through the streets of Dhaka.

Without changes in the law and in the attitude of too many factory managers in Bangladesh, however, the struggles of the dynamic women in the film will continue to face repression and violence at work.