The concern RMG authorities have rejected 46 percent of the applications seeking trade union (TU) registration in the country’s readymade garment (RMG) factories from 2010 to 2018, according to a latest report titled ‘Denial of Freedom of Association- Testimonies of Obstacles to Union Registration’ by Solidarity Center Bangladesh.
The main reasons for the rejections are identified are: arbitrary denials of union registration applications that meet all the criteria of labour law, unduly burdensome conditions not based on law or official regulations imposed by Registrar of Trade Unions and unreasonably burdensome and excessive paper works.
The report also identified, among others, failure to demonstrate required membership, minor variations in the union member’s signature on the application and the member’s signature on the wage or salary sheet provided by the factory and the union members’ failure to submit a copy of employer-provided documents such as an ID card or letter as common reasons to deny application registration.
From 2010-2018, the Department of Labour (DoL) accepted 54 percent of the more than 1,000 applications received. Out of the approved unions, some 423 are active, 62 unions are busted by management while 81 factories were closed, the report found. Factory management dominated unions are prevalent while 97 percent of the 4.0 million workers are not unionized.
Unions are rarely provided with any opportunity to rebut or challenge the findings of the Registrar of Trade Unions (RTU), the report said.
Workers experience constant unfair labour practices (ULPs) in RMG factories, including dismissals for union activism, as well as verbal and physical abuse by management and hired thugs. Few employers are ever fined or otherwise sanctioned for this illegal conduct, it said.
The online application system also creates additional difficulties and no garment worker can independently do it as he or she needs support of computer and internet connection from a federation.
After the Rana Plaza building collapse, trade union registration has increased significantly mainly because of the pressure from international community, the real number of registered union might not be more than 100 and only 30 to 35 have the negotiation skills.
The RTU routinely abuses the law and imposes burdensome conditions which are not based in the law or regulations, labour leaders alleged, adding that despite the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), registration applications were denied at an alarming rate.
The DoL does not follow a unified standard in allowing registration to factories, they also alleged.
The report suggested considering all employees as ‘worker’ in the law who don’t have hiring and firing authority, making the register of workers available for workers’ inspection so that union organisers can ascertain the actual number of workers employed in the establishment and the RTU’s “satisfaction” with regard to registration of the unions should be limited to the requirements of the labour law.
Other recommendations included further amendment to the law and rules to make the union formation and registration procedure simple and transparent, lowering the 20 percent membership requirement, regular updates to the online registration system.