Bangladesh amended labour law falls short: rights body

New York, July 16 (IANS) Amendments to Bangladesh's labour law make some improvements but still fall far short of protecting worker's rights and meeting international standards, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.

Bangladesh's donors and international investors should press the government to make further amendments to the law to fully ensure workers' rights to form unions and take part in workplace decisions on safety.

Under domestic and international pressure, on July 15, the Bangladeshi parliament enacted changes to the Labour Act.

The impetus for a reformed labour rights law sprang from the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in greater Dhaka in April killing more than 1,100 garment factory workers.

The Rana Plaza tragedy followed many other workplace tragedies that resulted in large loss of life.

"The Bangladesh government desperately wants to move the spotlight away from the Rana Plaza disaster, so it's not surprising it is now trying to show that it belatedly cares about workers' rights," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"This would be good news if the new law fully met international standards, but the sad reality is that the government has consciously limited basic workers' rights while exposing workers to risks and exploitation."

The new amendments deal with only some problematic provisions of the existing law, while leaving others untouched, Human Rights Watch said.

Unions will be allowed to select their leaders only from workers at the establishment. This will enable employers to force out union leaders by firing them for an ostensibly non-union-related reason, a common practice globally.

Workers in export processing zones, which cover a large percentage of Bangladesh's work force, would remain legally unable to form trade unions.

The amended law adds more sectors, including non-profit education and training facilities, as well as "hospitals, clinics and diagnostic centers," to a lengthy list of types of employment in which workers are not permitted to form unions.

The government will be able to stop a strike if it decides it would cause "serious hardship to the community" or is "prejudicial to the national interest," terms that are not defined but can easily be misused.

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