Tripartism and social dialogue in Bangladesh

Building better industrial relations through conciliation

Feature | Dhaka | 16 May 2018
A conciliator helps disputing parties settle their differences on their own terms.
DHAKA (ILO News) - Two men and a women sit around a small table engaged in an intense conversation. The woman seems distraught while one of the men is agitated. The other man however sits calmly, politely asking questions every now and then.

This was a simulation of a conciliation process, a practice where a neutral third party called a conciliator helps two disputing parties to mitigate their differences and reach an amicable settlement. In this particular role play, the calm gentleman represented a conciliator. The woman posed as a factory worker recently fired from her job, and the second man played the part of the factory manager.

The manager mentioned that the woman had been sacked due to her negligence which resulted in theft from the factory shop. The woman denied this and claimed that she was dismissed due to her participation in the trade union. After hearing them both out, the conciliator proposed to sits down with them separately. Following several meetings, both parties finally decided on a mutually acceptable outcome.

Conciliation services play an important role in helping resolve disputes in the workplace and creating harmonious industrial relations. For this reason, the International Labour Organisation’s Social Dialogue and Industrial Relations project, funded by Sweden and Denmark, is working with the Department of Labour to boost its conciliation capacity.

In all, 30 Department of Labour officials have been trained and coached on the techniques and approaches of conciliation by ILO’S International Training Centre (ITC). They will now apply these newly learnt skills to settle labour disputes and contribute to improved industrial relations.

Md Mahbub Alam, an Assistant Director at the Department of Labour played the role of the conciliator in the simulation. He said, “This is the first time we have received specialised training on conciliation. In the role play, I was listening to both parties attentively and trying to give them equal importance so that they believe I am impartial." Alam adds,
"A good conciliator must be open minded, patient, respectful, non-judgemental and most importantly a good listener.

This is a tough job, but these skills help us to build trust and rapport with disputing parties and create a conducive atmosphere for having dialogue".

Another trainee was Razia Sultana, a Department of Labour Deputy Director based in Rajshahi district. She said, “Conciliation is needed when two disputing parties fail to negotiate.  Both employers and collective bargaining agents can file an application at the Department of Labour to seek conciliation. As conciliators, our job is not to solve a problem, rather to explore the depth of the problem and the underlying needs of all parties. We help disputing parties explore alternatives and reach an outcome.”

Launched in December 2016 in collaboration with Government of Bangladesh, the ILO’s Social Dialogue project aims to develop dialogue mechanisms between employers and workers to create a more effective and trusted labour relations system in the country. The project is working to strengthen workplace cooperation, collective bargaining, mediation, conciliation and arbitration capacity of the government, workers and employers so they are better able to prevent and resolve employment related grievances.

“Enhancing the capacity of the Department of Labour to carry out conciliation will help build a more mature industrial relations environment in Bangladesh. This training marks an important step in our work towards that goal,” said Mr. Tauvik Muhamad, Workers Education Expert of the ILO Social Dialogue project.