Bangladesh among 10 worst states for workers' rights

Monira Munni | Published: July 05, 2019 09:47:07 | Updated: July 05, 2019 15:03:26

Workers of a garment factory in Dhaka seen joining their workplace, ending their mass protests, after a revision in the wage structure — FE/files

Bangladesh, for the third consecutive years since 2017, has been ranked among the 10 worst countries in the world where labour rights are not guaranteed, according to a global survey.

The Global Rights Index 2019 launched by International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) on June 19 pointed out violence, mass dismissals, killing and arrest of trade unionists for the worst situation in Bangladesh.

Other nine worst countries are Algeria, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Zimbabwe.

"Workers in Bangladesh were exposed to mass dismissals, arrests, violence and state repression against peaceful protests. In the garment sector, strikes were often met with extreme brutality by police forces," the report said.

The ITUC 2019 index ranked 145 countries in 1-5 categories against 97 internationally recognised indicators to assess where workers' rights are best protected in law and in practice.

The systematic dismantling of the foundations of workplace democracy and violent repression of strikes and protests put peace and stability at risk, according to the annual index.

Extreme violence against the defenders of workplace rights saw large-scale arrests and detentions in India, Turkey and Vietnam, it revealed.

The ITUC ranked Bangladesh with 34 other nations including Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam in the fifth category. The fifth category is a sign of "no guarantee of rights".

"The countries with the rating of 5.0 are the worst places in the world to work in," the report said.

"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," it added.

ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow in a statement said, "From Hong Kong to Mauritania, the Philippines to Turkey, governments are attempting to silence the age of anger by constraining freedom of speech and assembly. In 72 per cent of countries, workers had no or restricted access to justice, with severe cases reported in Cambodia, China, Iran and Zimbabwe."

The breakdown of the social contract between workers, governments and business has seen the number of countries which exclude workers from the right to establish or join a trade union increase from 92 in 2018 to 107 in 2019, she said.

The number of countries where workers are arrested and detained increased from 59 in 2018 to 64 in 2019, according to the key findings.

Out of 145 countries surveyed, 54 deny or constrain free speech and freedom of assembly. Authorities impeded the registration of unions in 59 per cent of countries and workers experienced violence in 52 countries, the report revealed.

Regarding Bangladesh it said a garment worker was killed and 50 others were injured after the police fired rubber bullets and teargas at 5,000 workers protesting on 08 January 2019. Police also raided the homes of some workers, shooting them with rubber bullets and vandalising their houses.

Following the January 2019 strikes by garment workers in Bangladesh to protest low wages, 7,000 workers were sacked by their factories, most of which make clothes for well-known western brands. In addition, hundreds of garment workers were arrested and more than 30 cases were filed against them, it said.

It also referred to February 2018 incident where 12 union leaders and members were charged with attempted murder and vandalism after representatives of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) pressed criminal charges against them for their participation in a peaceful protest outside Ashiana Garments Industries Ltd in Dhaka.

When asked about the Bangladesh's position, BGMEA president Dr Rubana Huq told the FE that there are countries where the lives of workers are not even taken into any humane consideration. For example, 34 were murdered in Colombia in 2018.

Mention of two companies violating human rights along with random, overgeneralised and repetitive accusations don't substantiate and argument, she said.

Reference to one worker being killed in early 2019 was mentioned all over the documents whereas there are more violations and brutalities covered by the authors all over the report.

Two other major apparel exporters were mentioned as countries which have resorted to extreme violence (as per the report) and was not even included on the list of 10, she noted.

Regarding mass termination, she said an eight-member committee comprising labour representatives and BGMEA has already been formed to investigate the mass termination cases.

"Since we believe in proper figures and details, BGMEA will stand for what is right and will take a fair stance based on the report of the committee," she noted.

According to the global index, nine countries, including Palestine, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, scored even worse at 5+.

This rating is linked to dysfunctional legislation as a result of any internal conflict or military occupation and has equally limited labour rights like fifth category.

Thirty-nine countries, including Chile and Nigeria, with systematic rights violations, have been ranked fourth.

Australia, Canada, Nepal, Spain, Rwanda, Russia and United Kingdom are among 26 countries ranked third with regular violations of rights.

The second category included 24 countries like Belgium and Republic of Congo with repeated rights violations.

Iceland and Sweden among 12 countries ranked a top with irregular violations of rights, according to the index.



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