Bangladesh`s amended EPZ labour law gets final nod from cabinet

BDApparelNews Desk
29 January 2019  

File photo of Dhaka Export Processing Zone. Photo Courtesy: BEPZA

File photo of Dhaka Export Processing Zone. Photo Courtesy: BEPZA

Bangladesh has given the final approval to amendments to the Bangladesh EPZ Labour Act, which relaxed the labour law for the export processing zones to ensure better rights for workers.

The draft law was approved in principle by the cabinet on December 3 last year.

After the cabinet meeting, Cabinet Secretary Md Shafiul Alam told reporters on January 28, 2019 that the draft law got the final nod without any change.

The EPZ workers will now enjoy the freedom of association to realise their demands, according to the new amendments to the Bangladesh EPZ Labour Act.

Earlier, 30 percent workers' consent was required to form a Workers' Welfare Association (WWA) in a factory in the EPZ.

The requirement threshold has been lowered to 20 percent because of the pressure from international communities such as the EU, Canada, the International Labour Organisation and the US.

The names of the WWAs have not been changed; the existing WWAs will act like unions.

The amendment will allow the officials of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments to inspect the factories housed inside the EPZs apart from the officials of Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (Bepza).

Previously, only Bepza officials could inspect the factories. The amendment also allowed the workers to constitute federation of WWAs. The mandatory required consent of the workers for calling strikes and lockouts has also been lowered. Now, workers will be able to call strike or lockout with the consent of two-thirds of the workers instead of previous three-fourths. Workers will be able to write the constitutions of the WWAs in line with the main labour law.

The election of the executive committees of WWAs will be held within six months of the end of the tenure of a committee, down from one year previously.

If a worker goes into retirement at the age of 60 or he or she resigns, they will receive basic salary equivalent to 45 days for each year of service up from the existing 30 days.

If a worker completes 25 years on the job, he or she will enjoy full compensation benefit.

The amended law allowed formation of WWAs in new industrial units within three months of their operation.

Previously the workers had to go through 12 steps to form WWAs, which the amended law has reduced to only three steps so that they can enjoy the freedom of association and bargaining. The amended law guarantees job security to the elected leaders of WWAs in case of strikes and lockouts.

Factory owners have also given the go-ahead to form associations. As of fiscal 2017-18, eight EPZs employed 502,013 workers, invested $4.69 billion and exported goods worth $6.66 billion, according to data from Bepza.

The cabinet also approved in principle the draft of Bangladesh Flag Carrier Ships (Preservation) Act 2019.

In case of transporting any Bangladeshi goods, 50 percent of the export and import goods will have to be carried by Bangladeshi vessels, according to the draft.

The existing law requires 40 percent of the goods to be carried by the local vessels. The cabinet secretary said the act was amended to promote Bangladesh Shipping Corporation. However, if a Bangladeshi ship is not available, foreign ships can be used. But in that case, a waiver has to be taken from the government.

In the existing laws, no specific amount of fine has been prescribed for violation of any law. The draft law has called for fines of up to Tk 5 lakh.