Bangladesh has once again been ranked among the 10 worst countries in the world where labour rights are not guaranteed. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has given the grade to the South Asian nation for the fourth consecutive years since 2017.
The Global Rights Index 2020 pointed out violence, mass dismissals and regressive laws for the worst situation in Bangladesh.
About 46 per cent out of 1,104 union registration applications examined between 2010 and 2019, according to reports, were rejected by the country's Department of Labour. Of the 575 unions registered, it revealed, 62 have been busted or are inactive due to anti-union retaliation and 81 unionised factories have been closed.
Workers in Bangladesh could not exercise their basic rights at work without fear of retaliation and brutal repression, according to the survey.
The index ranked 144 countries in one-five categories against 97 internationally recognised indicators to assess where worker rights are best protected in law and in practice.
A new trend shows multiple scandals over government surveillance of union leaders in an attempt to instil fear and put pressure on independent unions and their members.
These threats to workers, the country's economy and democracy were endemic in workplaces. In many countries including Bangladesh, repression of unions and governments' refusal to respect rights and engage in social dialogue exposed workers to illness and death.
It found severe cases in Bangladesh where labour courts accumulated a three-year backlog while a staggering 18,000 cases filed by workers are still pending.
In Bangladesh, the report said, a new section of the Department of National Security under Home Ministry was created to target garment trade unionists for surveillance.
Since September 2019, industrial police have visited garment federations, seeking their monthly activities, expenditure, members' names, participants of their activities as well as the labour disputes they handled.
The 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.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Ombudsman of the European Union (EU) has recently turned down the plea from a group of labour rights organisations for withdrawal of GSP facilities being enjoyed by Bangladesh for alleged violation of labour rights.
The organisations had filed the complaints with the EU Ombudsman against the European Commission, claiming that it has failed to investigate the alleged labour rights violations.
Declaring the cases 'closed', the EU Ombudsman ruled that the European Commission is on right track by not taking any step to start the process of GSP withdrawal.
Commenting on the EU Ombudsman's verdict, local experts say that it gives Bangladesh's garments sector a breathing space. But at the same time, it is to be remembered that the EU is observing Bangladesh's state of labour rights and they can withdraw the GSP if it fails to meet the requirements, they said.
As such, the country has to work seriously to ensure labour rights and other compliances.
Many local experts lauded the EU move, saying that it would help step up the garments entrepreneurs' ongoing efforts to ensure labour rights in their factories.
All said and done, this has been an important step in the journey towards a better labour law. Recent social changes and higher expectations of workers have been reflected.
Very recently, there have been changes in Bangladesh about women entering the workforce in larger numbers than ever which have been reflected in the provisions for better maternity terms, and higher expectations of a better workplace environment.