Improving rights for shipbreaking workers in Bangladesh
IMF delegation meet with Industry and Labour Ministers to discuss the need for improving the health, safety and rights of workers in the Chittagong shipbreaking yards, where workers currently toil under intolerable conditions.
BANGLADESH: "'Shipbreaking Act coming soon' to protect workers rights", is the news headline in the national press in Bangladesh, quoting Industries Minister, Dilip Baruac, after an International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF) delegation met with him on July 18 to discuss improving working conditions and rights in the shipbreaking industry.
The IMF delegation also met with the Labour Minister, Eng. Khandker Mosharraf Hossein, on the same day to highlight the serious concern of international trade unions about the intolerable working conditions in the shipbreaking yards in Chittagong and the lack of inspection mechanisms imposed on the shipbreaking owners.
Reference was made to the recent death of six workers in a shipbreaking yard, two of whom were burned alive. The unacceptable rate of fatalities and life-crippling work accidents due to a complete lack of protective measures and lack of compliance with international guidelines have earned the shipbreaking yards the name of "death trap".
During the meetings with the government Ministers, IMF stressed the need to defend shipbreaking workers' rights to organize without being threatened or immediately dismissed by the shipbreaking owners and subcontractors, since Bangladesh has also ratified International Labour Organization Conventions 87 and 98 on the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Both Ministers indicated that they are aware of the situation and are working towards a law to protect workers' rights.
The IMF delegation, which included IMF affiliates in Bangladesh and the IMF affiliate for shipbreaking workers in India, assured them that IMF and the international trade union movement will be closely following the government's initiatives. As the IMF delegation said, "If shipbreaking is seriously considered to be one of the industrial driving forces in Bangladesh, the Government must demonstrate its political will to enforce workers' rights so that shipbreaking can become the pride of Bangladesh, instead of being the shame of Bangladesh."
Earlier, the IMF delegation visited shipbreaking yards in Chittagong with their affiliates and held a two day workshop with the participation of workers from the shipbreaking yards, journalists and Arun Kanti Das, Assistant Director of Labour in Chittagong in order for the IMF to get a clearer picture of the situation in Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh Occupational Safety Health and Environment Foundation (OSHE) was also invited and made a presentation on their work in the area of building awareness about the shipbreaking workers' rights. The IMF affiliate in India, which has organised the first shipbreaking workers' union in South Asia, shared their valuable experience and expertise with the Bangladeshi affiliates.
The IMF regional office will now follow up with IMF affiliates to draw up a proposal to organize the shipbreaking workers in Bangladesh.Jul 21, 2010 – Sudharshan Rao