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World of Work Summit: PM Sheikh Hasina asks for investment in social justice

Geneva- Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday urged the international community to invest in social justice in order to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies across the world.

“We can achieve lasting peace and sustainable development on the foundation of social justice. We must invest in social justice in our efforts to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies worldwide,” she said.

The premier was addressing the plenary session of the two-day ‘World of Work Summit: Social Justice for All’ here in Geneva, which is a high-level forum for global voices to address the need for increased, coordinated and coherent action in support of social justice.

The ILO’s summit has brought together over a dozen heads of state and government, high-level representatives from the United Nations, other international organizations, and employers’ and workers’ organizations.

Hasina said Bangladesh continues to play a leading role in ensuring safe, orderly and regular migration.

“We urge the international community to pay heed to climate change impacts on human mobility and overall work environment,” she said in her speech delivered in Bengali.

The PM said this summit meeting, with the launch of the Global Coalition, has created an opportunity to place social justice at the heart of all international development agenda, including SDGs. “Our government will actively consider joining the Global Coalition through further discussions with our social partners at the national level,” she said.

In this context, she placed a five-point suggestion for the global coalition.
The suggestions include; “One, it would be advisable to develop this Coalition as a consultative or advocacy platform rather than as a norm-setting or negotiating forum; Two, the Coalition must guard against weaponising ‘social justice’ by one international quarter against the other in the current geopolitical context; and Three, the Coalition should make sure that instead of being used as a protectionist tool, social justice should be widely promoted under a rules-based multilateral trading system.”

The rest two suggestions are; “Four, the Coalition needs to ensure broad-based support from ILO’s own constituents with a view enlisting the International Financial Institutions for the purpose of promoting decent work and productive employment; and Five, the Coalition should give attention to making our youth champion social justice.”

Turning to Bangladesh, PM Hasina said a Tripartite Consultative Council (TCC) comprising representatives of workers, employers and the government continues to monitor and advance the overall labour situation in the country. A separate TCC has been constituted for the apparel industry.

She said it was our government that increased the minimum wage for garment workers from Tk 1,600 to Tk 8,000. “We have plans to formulate a policy framework to determine minimum wages through collective bargaining in different industrial sectors,” she said.

The Bangladesh leader said trade union registration has been made online. The rate of trade union registration has increased from 60 percent in 2013 to 90 percent in 2022. “The number of trade unions in the garments sector has increased nine-fold in the last nine years. Workers and employers are being regularly trained on the trade union registration process,” she said.

She said two separate toll-free helplines have been launched for Export Processing Zones (EPZ) and non-EPZ areas. Besides, databases are being developed with particulars of garment factory workers to ensure transparency and discipline in administering their remuneration and other benefits, she added.

The prime minister said Bangladesh has recently signed ILO Convention 138 on determining the minimum age for child labour. “We have declared eight hazardous sectors to be free of child labour,” she said.

Besides, in 2023-24 fiscal year, a programme is underway to rehabilitate 100,000 children engaged in hazardous work by providing them non-formal and technical education, she said.

“I want the country to be free from the scourge of child labour for the sake of a healthy and secure future generation,” said Hasina.

She said Bangladesh today is resolutely moving towards building a just, inclusive and resilient society with the ability to deal with various natural and man-made disasters of the past.

During Covid-19 pandemic, her government allocated USD 588 million for regular salary payments to workers in export-oriented industries; around USD 300 million for distributing food free-of-cost to under-privileged families; and USD 156 million approximately for distribution among five million poor families, she said.

The PM said the government is supplying essential food items at subsidized prices for ten million low-income families to manage the inflationary pressures in the wake of the Ukraine war.

She said a total of 27 million people are receiving direct cash transfer under 119 social protection schemes. Some 16.7 percent of the budget recently announced for 2023-24 fiscal year has been earmarked for social security in general, she noted.

Noting that Bangladesh is taking multi-pronged initiatives to achieve SDG targets, she said, “We shall conclusively graduate from the UN LDC status by 2026. Accordingly, we are implementing a Roadmap on Labour Sector for the 2021-26 period,” she said.

The PM said Bangladesh is a signatory to eight of the ten fundamental ILO Conventions on labour rights protection. “We are actively considering ratification of the two new fundamental ILO Conventions concerning occupational health and safety,” she said.

She, however, said it is a matter of great regret that certain developed countries that are otherwise vocal about labour rights have not themselves ratified most of the fundamental ILO Conventions. For instance, a major industrialized country has signed only two fundamental Conventions, she cited.

Sheikh Hasina said her government has followed ILO’s recommendations to amend the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 twice in 2013 and 2018. Moreover, amendments have been made to the Bangladesh Labour Rules, 2015.

“We are working on further amendments to the Labour Act, 2006 by this year. We have already given approval for applying Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 in the Special Economic Zones. Alongside the Labor Appellate Tribunal and seven Labour Courts, six additional Labour Courts have been set up by our present government,” she said.

In addition, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms are being institutionalized with participation of social partners. Besides, an ‘Industrial Police’ unit has been formed for promoting sound industrial relations, she mentioned.

The PM said the safety and working environment of all ready-made garment factories in the country have been assessed and the export-oriented ones have been remedied accordingly. More than half of the world’s top 100 environment-friendly garment factories are now located in Bangladesh.

“To take forward this achievement, we have formulated a ‘Green Factory Award Policy’. I hope our international buyers would encourage such eco-friendly initiatives by paying fair prices for the products,” she said.

She said her government is setting up a ‘National Research and Training Institute on Occupational Health and Safety’. Specialized doctors are providing regular medical service to workers through 32 Labour Welfare Centers, she noted.

Hasina said a provision has been included in the Labour Act for four months’ paid leave and maternity benefits for female workers. Some 6,430 day-care centers have been set up in different factories and establishments. “We have called for ‘zero-tolerance’ to all forms of violence or harassment against women in industries and workplaces,” she went on.

“Recently, I have given directives to explore ways to factor in women’s unpaid domestic work in our national GDP,” she said.

Under the aegis of ‘Bangladesh Labour Welfare Foundation’, our workers and their family members receive financial assistance in various sectors, she said.

In addition, a ‘Central Fund’ has been established under the Ministry of Labour and Employment for supporting the socio-economic development of workers in export-oriented industries along with their families, she said adding that an ‘Employment Injury Insurance Scheme’ was launched on a pilot basis in 2022 for workers in the garments sector.

Mentioning that two million young men and women are entering our employment market anew every year, she said her government is setting up 100 Special Economic Zones across the country for creating ten million new employments by 2030.

She said the government is providing soft loans, refinancing scheme and free training for the Cottage, Micro, Small and Medium Industries. “In the current fiscal year, Bangladesh Bank has launched a refinancing scheme worth about USD 2.3 billion for the CMSME sector,” she said.

She said that after the assassination of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family members, military dictators used to run the country.

She mentioned that after coming back to the country in 1981, she got the opportunity to form the government in 1996.

“I started to work to change the lot of the country people, my only aim to change their fate, and make Bangladesh a peaceful and developed sonar Bangla, I have dedicated my life for the toiling masses of Bangladesh,” she said.