Labor Rights & Justice at Export Processing Zones
Labor Rights & Justice at Export Processing Zones in Bangladesh have been mismanaged since its inception. Workers are so timid and powerless that injustices are common practices in those EPZ areas. That's why time and again unrests are seen and government termed it as political and conspiracy.
Preventing workers from seeking redress of any injustice as the law enacted six years ago requiring establishment seems to have been consigned to oblivion by the labor ministry; no labor tribunal has yet been set up in the Export Processing Zones. The EPZ Workers Association and Industrial Relations Act 2004 was enacted on July 18, 2004 making provisions for establishment of EPZ Labour Tribunals and an EPZ Labour Appellate Tribunal for the Export Processing Zones to dispose of industrial disputes and try offenses under the act. According to sections 56 and 59 of the EPZ Workers Association and Industrial Relations Act 2004, the government must establish a Labour Tribunal and an Appellate Tribunal in every Export Processing Zone for settlement of disputes arising between employers and workers.
The present government, however, repealed the act on August 1, 2010 through the enactment of the EPZ Workers’ Welfare Association and Industrial Relations Act 2010. Sections 48 and 51 of the new act also stipulate similar provisions for establishment of EPZ Labour Tribunals and an EPZ Labour Appellate Tribunal for Export Processing Zones. Labour and employment minister commented lately that he was unaware of the legal obligation. ‘No labor organization or employer has informed me about the law,’ he said. The minister, however, added he would soon take an initiative to establish the tribunals after examining the law. The general manager of Dhaka EPZ said, ‘The matter of establishing tribunals and an appellate tribunal in the EPZs is under process.’ In the absence of the tribunals, disputes on labor rights are being settled by conciliators and arbitrators appointed by the government, he said.
National Garment Workers’ Federation president said, ‘Most of the decisions made by conciliators or arbitrators go in ffavor of the management.’ He also added that workers were being deprived of their rights to access to justice as there was no scope to appeal against a decision passed by a conciliator and arbitrator who were appointed by the government. The government is also yet to reply to the rule issued by the High Court on August 25, 2008 asking it to explain why it should not be directed to form Labour Tribunals and a Labour Appellate Tribunal for the workers of the export processing zones. The court issued the rule after hearing a public interest litigation writ petition filed by Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust. The rule is yet to be heard, as the government has not submitted its reply, another lawyer said, who will soon file an application with the High Court bench concerned seeking further directives to the government to set up EPZ tribunals.
There are eight state-owned Export Processing Zones in Bangladesh – Chittagong EPZ, Dhaka EPZ, Mangla EPZ, Iswardi EPZ, Comilla EPZ, Adamjee EPZ and Uttara EPZ – where a large number of garment, electronic, shoe and engineering factories operate. According to the BLAST lawyer, despite their significant contribution to these sectors, workers continue to be deprived of their basic rights and are denied entitlements, such as minimum wages, appropriate working hours, leave, compensation and health care as guaranteed by the statutory laws.