Promoting Social Dialogue and Harmonious Industrial Relations in Bangladesh Ready-Made Garment Industry

SDIR Project update - June 2018

The Promoting Social Dialogue and Harmonious Industrial Relations in the Bangladesh Ready-Made Garment Industry (SDIR) Project is working to enhance workplace rights and industrial relations in the Bangladesh ready-made garment (RMG) sector primarily by facilitating improved dialogue between employers and workers, particularly at workplace level. Funded by Sweden and Denmark the project runs from October 2015 – December 2020.

The project focuses on establishing sustainable partnerships between the government, employers and workers. The project has three key priority focal areas. Activities and progress to date under these areas is detailed below.

Priority 1: Sustainable improvement in social dialogue, workplace cooperation and grievance handling.

Pilot factories
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) have initially allocated 58 factories for piloting activities of the SDIR project. These factories comprise approximately 20 unionised factories, and 38 non-unionised factories.

A baseline survey of 52 pilot factories has been undertaken, and will be used as a basis for evaluating the impact of the project in the participating factories.

Over the course of its implementation, the project will provide workplace cooperation training (and facilitate the development of workplace cooperation plans) in 350 targeted non-unionised factories, collective bargaining training in 150 targeted unionised factories, and grievance handling training (including support to develop grievance handling procedures) in all 500 targeted factories.

Participation Committee election

The committee that manages the election of worker representatives onto the Participation Committee currently includes employer representatives. This could be construed as an undue influence by the employers on the election process. Such a practice also potentially negatively impacts on the transparency and legitimacy of the election process.

Through the facilitation of the project, the employers, supported by the Ministry of Labour and Employment (MoLE) have therefore agreed that a pilot process can be established in selected factories where the election committees would not comprise employer representatives. The guidelines for the pilot have been agreed with the employers and the Ministry of Labour and Employment. The BGMEA and BKMEA have identified factories for pilot implementation using the guidelines.

Workshops were held in August 2017 with the Department of Labour, BGMEA, BKMEA and participating pilot factories to explain the pilot process. An evaluation process has been developed to obtain data on the pilot and its outcomes.

The Department of Labour (DOL) has commenced with the implementation of the pilot in October 2017. As of June 2018, the pilot model has been implemented in two factories: ABM Fashions Limited and Marp Knit Composite Limited.

Based on the results of the pilot, MoLE will consider if the piloted process should be implemented on a formal basis throughout the RMG sector, which would require an amendment of the Bangladesh Labour Rules.

Master Trainers in workplace cooperation
30 staff (30% women) from the Department of Labour (DOL) and the Industrial Relation Institutes (IRI), the training arm of DoL, as well as two staff from the BGMEA, and two from the BKMEA have been trained as Master Trainers on workplace cooperation, in partnership with the International Training Centre of the ILO (ITC-ILO) .

This body of trainers have also received a refresher training and will support the project’s efforts to develop workplace cooperation plans and grievance handling procedures at factory-level. The initiative is aimed at enhancing the institutional capacity of the Department of Labour, which is important to facilitate the sustainable impact of the project.

Master trainers in grievance handling and collective bargaining

22 worker representatives from NCCWE and IBC and 11 employer representatives from the Bangladesh Employers' Federation, BGMEA and BKMEA have been trained on grievance handling in partnership with ITC-ILO.

Another 33 participants from workers’ (NCCWE & IBC) and employers’ organizations (BEF, BGMEA, BKMEA) have been trained on collective bargaining.

All the trainees were selected through a process of written tests and interviews. Among those selected, approximately 60% trainers from worker organizations and 50% from employer organizations are women. This pool of trainers will provide grievance handling training at the factory level through the Workers Resource Centre (WRC) and Centre of Excellence for Bangladesh Apparels Industry (CEBAI).

Development of grievance handling procedures
A grievance handling procedure has been developed to guide the informal resolution of grievances at factory-level. The purpose of this procedure is to address a grievance expeditiously and constructively in order to avoid its escalation, including into a possibly avoidable formal process.

These guidelines were developed through extensive consultation with factories while workshops have also taken place with worker and management representatives of pilot factories.

Development of training materials on collective bargaining and HR management
The development of training material on collective bargaining, negotiation and human resource management have been finalized by ITC-ILO, in consultation with relevant constituent organizations.

Priority 2: Sustainable and effective mechanisms for conciliation and arbitration are established.

Trade Union Registration Standard Operating Procedure
Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for registration of trade unions was developed by the ILO SDIR project and adopted in May 2017 following modifications made by the Ministry of Labour and Employment. This SOP provides a uniform set of actions to be followed by the Department of Labour.

Unfair Labour Practice Standard Operating Procedure
Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on unfair labour practices was developed by the ILO SDIR project and adopted in August 2017 following modifications made by the Department of Labour (DOL). This SOP provides a uniform set of actions to be followed by DOL to address reports of unfair labour practices.

Two consultation workshops have been held with 48 trade union leaders and organisers in September 2017 to ensure that they fully understand the implementation process of both sets of SOPs.

Online Database

A Grant Agreement has been signed with the Department of Labour to upgrade its online database systems for registration of trade unions and complaint management for unfair labour practices and anti-union discriminations.

Tripartite Consultative Councils established
The Tripartite Consultative Councils (TCC) for the RMG sector has been established in March 2017 with support from the ILO SDIR project. Guidelines for national and RMG TCCs have been finalized and a support unit has been established at MoLE for proper functioning of the TCCs.

At the request of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, a terms of reference has been drafted to guide the work of both TCCs and their proposed Support Unit.

The project had provided logistical support for meetings of the national TCC in respect of amendments to the Bangladesh Labour Act. The Government of Bangladesh subsequently submitted its proposed amendments to the Bangladesh Labour Act to the ILO on 31 August 2017.

Development of conciliation capacity in the Department of Labour
The current dispute resolution system and capacity of the Department of Labour (DoL) has been mapped through a series of workshops with DOL. DOL has taken initiative to establish a centralized pool of conciliators within the department. A total of 30 conciliators and 30 investigators of unfair labour practices from DOL have been trained by the ILO-ITC in February 2018.

Pool of independent arbitrators
In collaboration with ITC-ILO, a pool of 20 to 25 independent arbitrators will be trained on arbitration of labour disputes. 60 members of labour judiciary (30 judges and 30 lawyers) have been trained on international labour standards in April 2017 (in collaboration with the FRLR project funded by Norway). Additionally three Judges (including two from Labour Courts) and the Director of Labour received training on international labour standards (for two weeks) at the ITC in Italy

Following these trainings, a tripartite committee will adopt a list of trained and certified arbitrators who will work in an independent capacity.

Priority 3: Enhanced capacities of employers and workers organizations to dialogue and to prevent and resolve disputes.

Establishment of the Workers Resource Centre
The development of the capacity of unions to engage with Government and employers more effectively, and to better serve their members is an important objective of the project. The institutional instrument for this is a Workers Resource Centre (WRC).

A board of trustees comprising NCCWE and IBC has been established and a Trust Deed has been concluded between NCCWE and IBC to provide the legal basis for WRC’s establishment. An implementation agreement has been concluded with the WRC.

A workshop was held with the Board of Trustees from 9 -10 August 2017. Arising from this workshop, a bi-annual work plan and budget has been developed together with a 12 month performance plan and a five-year strategic plan.

The WRC located in Tongi was officially launched on 11 March 2018. A pool of 60 master trainers will be based there to provide training at the factory level.

Master trainers in Trade Union Organizing and Administration

A Training of Trainers workshop on Trade Union Administration was held in April 2018 in collaboration with the ITC. 22 Participants from trade union federations affiliated with the NCCWE and IBC attended the course.

Training of women trade unionists
A total of 26 women trade unionists received Women in Leadership training by ITC-ILO from 12 – 15 June 2017. This training is aimed at enhancing the skills of women as future trade union leaders.

The trainees will support the Workers Resource Centre by joining a women’s committee to carry out advocacy work and capacity building for potential women organizers at factory level. This should help lead to an increase in the participation of women as trade union members and leaders in the RMG sector.

In addition, it will help women’s concerns and voice to be articulated and included in negotiations and collective bargaining agreements at factory and sectoral levels.

Development of trade union training materials
A number of tade union training materials are being developed. These handbooks provide basic information to trade unionists on a range of topics, including Gender Equality and Rights for Women, Labour Inspection, Trade Union approach to Workplace Cooperation, Trade Union Policy to support Workers and Trade Union Rights, Trade Union Education Programme Design, Collective Bargaining and Negotiation, Occupational Safety and Health (OSH), Workers Right and Trade Union Management and Leadership.

Enhance the capacity of the Centre of Excellence for Bangladesh Apparel Industry (CEBAI)
CEBAI was established in 2014 as part of an initiative supported by ILO, Sweden and H&M and in collaboration with BGMEA. The project has facilitated the inclusion of the BEF onto the Board of CEBAI. An implementation agreement between ILO and CEBAI has been commenced under which the SDIR project is supporting CEBAI, helping it act as a platform to support employers.

A pool of 30 master trainers has been created who will carry out grievance handling, collective bargaining and human resources related training in 500 factories through CEBAI.

Master trainers in Industrial Relations and Best HR practice
A distance learning course on Human Resources Management kicked off on 7 February 2018 with 22 participants from employers’ and workers’ organisations (11 from each). After completing the course, these participants attended a Training of Trainers Workshop on Key Elements of Industrial Relations and Best HR practice.

Master trainers on supervisory skills
A Training of Trainers workshop on supervisory skills was held on 24 to 26 June 2018 for 26 trainers (10 women) who are working in employers’ organizations (BEF, BGMEA, BKMEA) and selected companies. All the participants had earlier attended a 20-hour distance learning session as a precondition to attend this ToT.

The training aimed at improving the soft skills of these selected trainers who within the scope of the SDIR project will then be deployed in selected companies to deliver training sessions on leadership, supervision, interpersonal communication and conflict management with the ultimate goal to promote effective social dialogue and sound industrial relations in the RMG sector of Bangladesh.