On Monday, the Bangladesh Parliament approved a new law aimed at expanded worker rights, especially in the garment industry. The law grants factory workers the right to unionize, as well as requires insurance for factory workers.
An important part of this law is that workers in the factory do not need approval from the factory owners for trade union, which previously was a major barrier to labor rights. In addition, all structure changes to factories must be approved by governmental inspectors before beginning construction. The law also requires that 5% of annual profits be deposited in employee welfare funds.
Many lawmakers hailed the legislations as a major advancement. The head of the parliamentary sub-committee on labor issues, Israfal Alam, told reporters “the new laws are historic.” However, labor leaders are reluctant to praise the measures just yet. Labor leader Wajedul Islam told reporters “We had raised some concerns. We hope they have addressed those issues. Otherwise this legislation will be a futile exercise.” The president of the Workers Party of Bangladesh and a member of parliament, Rashed Khan Menon, said “They have made progress but the government rushed with it. They should have spent more time to deliberate on the issue of compensation for the injured and dead, maternity benefits and rights of domestic workers.”
The legislation comes after Bangladesh received international scrutiny in the wake of a garment factory collapse that killed over 1,000 workers, mostly women. Approximately 80% of the garment factory workforce in Bangladesh are women who are often responsible for providing for their families. Under grueling working conditions, workers in garment factories can make as little as $26 a month. Last month, President Obama revoked trade privileges with Bangladesh, citing the poor working conditions in factories.