Bangladesh has finally made the move to ratify the ILC 138, the International Labour Organisation (ILO)'s minimum age convention. Ratification of this particular ILO convention has been long overdue since the country adopted it in 1973. As expected, the delay in its ratification has not helped Bangladesh in many respects so far, especially, when it comes to qualifying for various entitlements and benefits from international multilateral trade bodies. Now that Bangladesh is progressing fast towards upgrading its status as a middle income economy, it will necessarily come under stricter scrutiny from these international agencies. However, at the moment, expediting the process of ratification of the ILC 138 or minimum age convention has become important for Bangladesh to have duty-free access to the EU market. Of the 27 conventions necessary to be ratified to reap the benefits of the EU's GSP+ facilities three years after Bangladesh's graduation to a middle income economy, the only one left relates to the ILO's minimum age convention. It (the convention) stipulates that the nature of the work for employable young people should be such that it is fully compatible with their physical and mental growth. It further requires that the minimum age should not be below the age for compulsory schooling and, under no circumstances should it be below14 years.
Further to those requirements, if the work environment for the employable young people involves safety issues such as the possibility of their being exposed to hazards of physical or moral nature, the age limit should not be less than 18 years. Also, there are exemptions subject to ensuring that necessary protective measures are in place to meet the hazard criteria. In that case, the employable age limit could be reduced to 16 years. What is more, there is still room for further relaxation of the lower age limit to 14 years, if the educational infrastructure of the country in question is not sufficiently advanced to meet the compulsory schooling age criteria. Coming to the situation at home, fulfilment of the required conditions on the ratification issue in question does not seem to be a tall order. It is for the simple reason that through enactment of the Bangladesh Labour Act (amended)-2018, many of the obstacles to the ratification issue have largely been removed. Clearly, what remains is completion of the required formalities. On this score, it is to be noted that the government will be required to do an elaborate homework for the purpose. First, an action plan has to be formulated in the spirit of the EU-Bangladesh joint commission meeting held in 2019.
Thankfully, the ministry concerned (the Labour and Employment ministry) is learnt to have started the groundwork in concurrence with the EU and ILO. It is further gratifying to note that the target has been set for finalising the work as early as the next month (March).To this end, the most important tasks would involve assessing the feasibility of the ratification move. Also, setting a timeline for the job would be equally important. At this point, it has to be borne in mind that ratification of ILC 138 is just the beginning. For the days ahead will be tougher with multilateral trading bodies getting more demanding on labour, employment and other related issues. So, preparations should be afoot to meet the remaining challenges as soon as Bangladesh completes its graduation phase for a middle income economy.