It has also asked the government to increase its labour, fire and housing inspectors, improve their training and establish clear procedures for independent and credible inspections.
The rights body also called for the establishment of an effective complaint mechanism so that workers can raise violations of safety regulations and workers rights without fear of retaliation; revision of the labour law to ensure it is in line with international labour standard including ILO Convention No 87 on freedom of association and ILO Convention no 98 on right to organise and bargain collectively.
The suggestions by Human Rights Watch came today even as it released a report that said garment workers in Bangladesh face poor working conditions and anti-union tactics by employers including assaults on union organisers.
In the two years since more than 1,100 workers died in the catastrophic collapse of the Rana Plaza factory on April 24, 2013, efforts have been underway to make Bangladesh factories safer, but the government and Western retailers can and should do more to enforce international labor standards to protect workers’ rights, including their right to form unions and advocate for better conditions, the report said.
“If Bangladesh wants to avoid another Rana Plaza disaster, it needs to effectively enforce its labor law and ensure that garment workers enjoy the right to voice their concerns about safety and working conditions without fear of retaliation or dismissal,” said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch. “If Bangladesh does not hold factory managers accountable who attack workers and deny the right to form unions, the government will perpetuate practices that have cost the lives of thousands of workers.”
The 78-page report titled, “Whoever Raises Their Head, Suffers the Most’: Workers’ Rights in Bangladesh’s Garment Factories,” is based on interviews with more than 160 workers from 44 factories, most of them making garments for retail companies in North America, Europe, and Australia. Workers reported violations including physical assault, verbal abuse – sometimes of a sexual nature – forced overtime, denial of paid maternity leave, and failure to pay wages and bonuses on time or in full. Despite recent labor law reforms, many workers who try to form unions to address such abuses face threats, intimidation, dismissal, and sometimes physical assault at the hands of factory management or hired third parties.
At Rana Plaza, factory managers compelled reluctant workers to enter the building despite major cracks in the complex’s walls. At the Tazreen factory, where a fire killed at least 112 workers on November 24, 2012, managers refused to let workers escape even after the fire alarms went off. None of the factories involved had a union to represent workers to help them to push back against the managers’ deadly demands. (SH)
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