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Guaranteeing labour rights

BD among 10 countries on bottom rung

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Bangladesh, for the eighth consecutive year since 2017, ranks among 10 countries of the world that stand on the bottom rung in guaranteeing labour rights, according to a global survey.

Bangladesh's peers on the list are Belarus, Ecuador, Egypt, Eswatini, Guatemala, Myanmar, the Philippines, Tunisia and Türkiye.

The Global Rights Index-2024 was launched by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Wednesday during the International Labour Conference at the International Labour Organization in Geneva.

The eleventh edition of the index points out state regression, violence, and anti-union policies for the lowest rankings.

Twenty-two trade unionists were killed in six countries: Bangladesh, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, the Philippines, and the Republic of Korea, it said.

"For years, Bangladeshi workers have faced severe state repression, including violent crackdowns on peaceful protests by the notorious Industrial Police, and intimidation aimed at preventing the formation of unions," reads the report.

In 2023, several workers in the dominant garment sector, were killed by police during protests and a union leader was murdered, it noted.

Strikes were met with brutality by police and attempts to form unions for the sector's 4.5m workers were obstructed by a draconian registration process which saw 50 per cent of applications rejected.

The report mentions that Shahidul Islam, a trade-union leader of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, was murdered in Gazipur on April 25, 2023, after visiting a factory to address a dispute over unpaid wages.

"Upon leaving the factory, he and other union officials were brutally attacked by a gang."

The report also highlights that on October 30, 2023, garment workers in Dhaka clashed with police while protesting for higher minimum wages, resulting in the police shooting and killing Md Rasel Hawlader, a 25-year-old maintenance machinist who was not part of the protest.

On November 9, 2023, up to 25,000 workers clashed with police, who used live bullets, batons, and tear gas, leading to the death of 26-year-old Anjuara Khatun and injuring hundreds of workers, the report mentions.

"In Special Economic Zones, including those of Bangladesh and Haiti, workers were deprived of their right to freedom of association, as labour protections were either lowered or simply did not apply at all in a bid to attract foreign investment."

The ITUC ranked Bangladesh with 25 other nations, including Cambodia, China, India, Korea and Malaysia, in the fifth category.

The fifth category is a sign of "no guarantee of rights".

"While the legislation may spell out certain rights, workers have effectively no access to these rights and are, therefore, exposed to autocratic regimes and unfair labour practices."

When asked, Mohammad Hatem, executive president of BKMEA, said the report was prepared based on comments of some local 'labour leaders' and it did not talk to any of the sector's trade bodies like BKMEA and BGMEA.

He also said the report was not based on facts. "It is unfortunate that right information was not collected."

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