Bangladesh has a population of approximately 160 million people, which is the eighth largest in the world. It has plentiful young labor, the average age of the labour force being 24 years, and a growing middle class, the size of which is drawing attention to Bangladesh’s potential as a huge consumer market. As of January 2015, about 220 Japanese companies had set up operations in Bangladesh (including YKK, Kojima Iryo, Uniqlo, Brother Industries, and Kawamura Electric), and in the past decade that country’s real gross domestic product has grown at a stable rate of around 6%. (Bangladesh is one of the NEXT 11 countries that are expected to grow powerful economies by 2055.)
Bangladesh is not without its problems, however. As symbolized by the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in April 2013, the work environment and working conditions in garment factories are wretched, the minimum wage is the lowest in Asia, the right of freedom of association is violated, and labour-management confrontations are frequent. In addition, informal-sector workers account for about 90% of the domestic labour force. The reality is that the benefits of economic development are not fairly trickling down to the whole nation and workers.
In these circumstances, JILAF, recognizing the importance of building sound industrial relations and strengthening the labour movement (through the expansion of organization and so on) in order to protect the rights of workers and thereby achieve employment stability and social and economic development in Bangladesh, held a two-day industrial relations and labour policy seminar in the capital city of Dhaka on November 19 and 20 jointly with the Bangladesh Council of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-BC). The seminar, the main theme of which was “Building Sound Industrial Relations and Employment Stability,” was attended by a total of 73 people (of whom 22 were women), including senior trade union officials and representatives from an employers’ organization.
At the opening, ITUC-BC Secretary General Sirajul Islam expressed his sincere gratitude for the continued cooperation so far of JILAF and the Japanese government and his respect to the participants from government, labour, and management. In addition, Secretary-General Farooq Ahmed of the Bangladesh Employers’ Federation (BEF) stated that, in the common interest of employers and trade unions, industrial relations in Bangladesh were improving, albeit gradually, and he emphasized the importance of building constructive industrial relations. Finally, speaking on behalf of the organizers, JILAF President Hiroyuki Nagumo explained JILAF’s involvement in Bangladesh so far and the purpose of the seminar, which was to encourage efforts to build constructive industrial relations, achieve employment stability, and protect the rights of workers.
Next, JILAF Assistant Secretary General Bunzo Katsuo delivered a lecture titled “The Minimum Wage System in Japan,” in which he shared information on such topics as (1) the minimum wage system in Japan and minimum wage and living wage levels and (2) mechanisms to resolve collective and individual industrial disputes in Japan. As representatives of the labour side, Mr. Abdus Salam, former president of the Jatiya Sramik League (JSL), and President Anowar Hossain of the Bangladesh Jatiyatabadi Sramik Dal (BJSD) then gave talks and engaged in discussions on the building of constructive industrial relations and other issues. As the main cause of industrial disputes in Bangladesh, they pointed to harassment by employers, as symbolized by the dismissal of trade union executives and members, and emphasized that forward-looking communication between labour and management was conspicuously lacking.
They also outlined the background to amendment of Bangladesh’s Labour Act and proposed countermeasures by trade unions toward protecting the rights of workers and improving their livelihoods, including (1) participation of labour in the Minimum Wages Board, (2) human resource development and vocational training for workers who go abroad to work, (3) the organization of informal-sector workers, including domestic workers, and application of social security for them, and (4) promotion of the organization of women workers and their participation in union activities.
Next, ITUC-BC President Mr. Sukur Mahamud gave a lecture on “The Expansion of Trade Union Organization,” in which he noted that in order to break out of the present situation in which violations of the right to freedom of association and industrial disputes were frequent, it is necessary to increase the social influence of trade unions (the voice of workers). He also shared his recognition that the organization of informal-sector workers, who account for about 90% of Bangladesh’s labour force, is an important and urgent common issue.
On the second day, group discussions, followed by the presentation of action plans, took place on the themes of (1) employment policies and industrial policies and (2) the building of constructive industrial relations. The participants made suggestions regarding such matters as (1) the expansion of vocational training, (2) the building of a system to guarantee compliance with the Labour Act, and (3) organization plans to prevent the violation of trade union rights. Finally, ITUC-BC Secretary General Sirajul, JILAF President Nagumo and ITUC-BC President Mr. Sukur Mahamud gave summaries of the proceedings. The two-day seminar ended with a wish that social and economic development, employment stability, and protection of workers’ rights would make progress toward fruition in Bangladesh.
|11/19||Thu||Seminar day 1|
|11/20||Fri||Seminar day 2|