A government report, prepared by the Directorate of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, the competent authority in this regard, has not only vindicated and substantiated what was already widely suspected, that the majority of garment factories do not yet comply with many wage and workplace standards specified in the tripartite agreement of 2006. Although this tripartite agreement itself was regressive from what existing labour laws stipulate and thus, the government being a party to the agreement undermines the labour law itself, the provisions of this tripartite agreement have become accepted as the standard benchmark for a garment factory’s compliance with labour standards. As reported in New Age on Saturday, this report finds that 743 out 1,175 or about 63 per cent of the factories in Dhaka division do no comply with that tripartite agreement.
In the absence of any government reports, the media as well as the public had to rely on a number of surveys and studies carried out by non-governmental organisations and individual researchers that would naturally contradict reports prepared by the garment owners’ association claiming far higher rate of compliance compared to almost any other report by nearly any other agency. This is perhaps also the first time that there has been a comprehensive report on the state of implementation of the tripartite agreement as most previous surveys concentrated on implementation of minimum wage and regular payment of wages and overtime leaving out other rights and benefits stipulated by the agreement in question or the labour law of Bangladesh.
While the factory owners’ associations, for both knitwear and woven, have dismissed the government report, it is still rather surprising that the government report found over a third of the factories abiding by all of the agreement’s stipulations that include full maternity benefits—three months’ paid leave—and collective bargaining by the workers. This would perhaps become clearer when the government releases the full report to the public explaining the benchmarks applied and method of survey. However, as the report stands, there are some 743 factories not complying with what the owners had themselves agreed to provide their workers, and yet there are indications in the report that only 28 that have still not implemented the minimum wage—that is factories not paying their workers a minimum of Tk 1,662.50 per month—and face legal measures. There is no hint of any punitive measures against the large number remaining factories that are non-compliant.
If the government recognises there are a literally hundreds of non-compliant factories, and that too according to an agreement that stipulates only part of the labour law provisions, then there must also be some measures against these errant factories to ensure that they do comply. Regardless of what the owners claim and to what they attribute their failure to implement the basic labour codes, there should be some penalties for those that continue to violate an agreement almost three years after its signing. It must be pointed out that the garment manufacturing industry with a few thousand factories employing over a two million people and constituting over three-fourths of Bangladesh’s export earnings, does not allow any form collective bargaining. The few exceptions that there might be, exist only to prove the norm.
As the world becomes increasingly integrated and commerce increasingly globalised, Bangladeshi manufacturers will continue face harder competition and will require more skilled workforce and higher efficiency in order to survive. The ongoing global financial crisis will bring its share of misfortunes. As a result of national and international lobby groups with varied interests, there will also presumably be added pressure on Bangladeshi manufacturers to comply, not with the tripartite agreement, not with the national labour law, but with core labour standards established internationally. Compliance with the core labour standards would benefit the workers as well as the factory owners as it would lead to a more sustainable model instead of the current one, which is largely based on exploitation.
Source: The Daily New Age, Editorial, 19 April 2009