The draft of Bangladesh Labour (Amendment) Act, 2018 aims to make labour law worker-friendly while regulating the conduct of workers and owners in compliance with the standards of International Labour Organization (ILO). In the proposal, 2 new sections, 4 sub sections and 8 clauses have been added, 6 sub-sections have been repealed and reform in 41 sections have been proposed. After the Rana Plaza collapse, Bangladesh had to raise its standard of labour law to international standards in order to obtain the GSP plus status in the European Market. The proposed amendment attempts to fulfil these conditions by a margin.
Under this amendment, the government, after consultations with different stake-holders, has proposed to reduce the minimum support needed to form a trade union to 20 percent from 30 percent stipulated by the existing law. But the ILO Convention prescribes that even if only 10 workers want to form a trade union, they have to be granted permission. The proposed provision in this regard is not consistent with the ILO conventions. Moreover, the draft prescribes that a worker of an industry can be a member of only one trade union and in case of dual membership, the new law suggested one month imprisonment. The proposed amendment also curtails discretionary power of the Director General of the labour department in cancelling registration of a trade union. In the existing law, to form a trade union, the workers from the informal sector need identity card whereas there is no authority to provide them with one.
The proposed amendment does not bring any good news for the domestic workers who are the most neglected ones in the country. According to the proposed amendment, the government would prepare a standard operating procedure (SOP) for registration of the labour organizations. A labour organization would apply for registration in specific form and the Director General of the Labour Directorate would resolve the application within 55 days. Previously the time period was 60 days.
The draft has also incorporated tougher provisions to prohibit misconducts on the part of owners and workers. A worker or owner would get one year imprisonment or penalty of Taka 10,000 or both for any misconduct including violation of the law. The law suggested punitive actions for workers' acts that include mounting undue pressure, threat or physical assault to compel the owners to sign any agreement, disrupting power, gas or water supplies and unlawful shutdowns.
According to the proposed amendment, to organise a strike, the workers also have to notify the employers 21 days prior to the day of such event. Then the entire process of strike would require a long bureaucratic process which can definitely create a bar to legitimate strikes. In the existing law, there is provision for one year imprisonment, five thousand taka fine or both in case of participation in any illegal strike or lock-out. In the proposed amendment Act, the punishment has been decreased to 6 months imprisonment. Under the existing law, there is a provision for a resting room. In the proposed amendment, along with a resting room, a new requirement of dining room has also been added if there are more than 25 workers in the factory.
According to proposed amendment, expectant mothers would mandatorily be entitled to get eight weeks maternity leave and other benefits within three days of submission of necessary of documents. An owner may face penalty of Taka 25,000 on charge of depriving an expectant mother from maternity leave. Under the existing law, a child can be employed for light work on condition that it would not be harmful to his health and his education would not be hampered. The draft seeks total ban on child labour in factories. At the same time the law prohibited engagement of children and physically challenged persons in any risky job.
THE WRITER WORKS WITH LAW DESK, THE DAILY STAR.