Bangladesh has achieved relatively good economic progress during the 1990s by adopting a series of structural and economic reforms. The GDP recorded an average of five percent annual growth during the period. As a result, improvements have been recorded in the area of poverty alleviation and other human development indicators like education, health, nutrition, life expectancy, infant mortality and dropout rates in primary schools. Despite the progress made, 45 percent of the population still lives below the poverty line. Unemployment and, more significantly underemployment, remain a huge problem as the economy is unable to absorb the new entrants to the labour force not to mention the huge backlog of already unemployed persons. Between a third and a quarter of the labour force remain unemployed or underemployed. In terms of employment, informal sector dominates the scene - about 90 percent of the labour force work in the informal sector. Women workers are entering in ever increasing numbers in the labour force, particularly in the service sector and export-oriented industries dominated by garments and textiles. But women continue to face discrimination and they dominate the low paid jobs. About 80 percent of women are unpaid family workers as compared to 20 percent for men. Child labour is widespread - about 12 percent of the labour force are working children.
Over the past two decades or so, the Government has instituted major reform programmes including reform of the public enterprises. However, these reforms have not brought the desired results. Labour laws are quite comprehensive, but weak implementation capacity has resulted in frequent violations of laws, poor working conditions, discrimination in employment, and high incidence of child labour. The Government has recently announced withdrawal of restrictions imposed on trade union rights in the EPZs. This withdrawal will be effective from 1 January 2004. Industrial relations by and large remain confrontational in nature.
Although Parliamentary Democracy has been functioning in the country since 1991, the process needs to be further strengthened. Frequent hartals (or general strikes) in recent months continue to severely disrupt normal life of the people. Violent clashes lending to death or injury are quite common. These are serious implications for the growth of the economy and improvement of employment conditions.
The Government of Bangladesh is currently the deputy member of the ILO Governing Body. Mr. M.A. Mannan MP, a former trade union leader, is the Minister of Labour and Employment. Mr. Md. Sirajul Islam is the Secretary of the Ministry. ILO assistance to the Ministry includes programmes in the area of international labour standards, child labour, skills training, women's empowerment and health, industrial relations, and occupational safety and health.
ILO's main focal point is the Bangladesh Employers Federation (BEF) which presents more than 90 percent of the employers in the country. It is affiliated with the International Organization of Employers (IOE). Mr. A.S.M. Quasem is the current President and Mr. C.K. Hyder is the Secretary General. ILO provides assistance to employers in the areas of human resources management, occupational safety and health, industrial relations, and non-discrimination in employment. Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), which is receiving assistance from ILO in the area of child labour, is a member of BEF.
There are over 22 national trade union federations in the country of which four are ICFTU affiliates. The trade union movement is severely fragmented and politicized. Unionization in the private sector industries is generally low and participation of women in the trade unions is even lower. The ILO has encouraged the formation of the Bangladesh National Committee for Women Workers’ Development and continued to provide support for its capacity building. Currently, sixteen federations have formed a loose group known as the National Coordination Committee on Workers' Education (NCCWE). ILO has been collaborating with the NCCWE in various activities which include training courses, workshops and seminars on collective bargaining, industrial relations, leadership development, and awareness about labour law and trade union rights.
Since the early 1990s, the ILO TC programme has expanded rapidly. This has been spearheaded by the ILO-IPEC programme which currently includes several TC projects: Continuation of the Monitoring and Verification for child Labour in Garment industries (MOU-2); Time-Bound Programme for Eliminination of Child Labour in the Urban Informal Sector (Dutch-funded); Trafficking in Women and Children (Subregional project funded by US DOL); and an interregional project on Promoting the Linkage between Women's Employment and the Reduction in Child Labour. Other major projects with the Ministry of Labour include Women's Skill Training (UNDP-funded) and Women's Empowerment and Health (US DOL-funded). Common characteristics of these projects include collaboration with a broad range of partners like Government agencies, NGOs trade unions and employers organizations. Major policy studies with GOB include Globalization and its Social Impact and Non-formal Sector Employment Generation (both funded by UNDP). An important undertaking is the ILO-IPEC assistance to the MOLE in formulation of a national child labour policy. A sub regional project on "Prevention of Family Indebtedness through Micro Finance" aims to help the poor and indebted families through micro finance.
International Labour Standards and Tripartism
One of the significant developments in the area of ILS is the ratification of C.182 by the Government of Bangladesh. Intensive campaign and promotional activities during the second half of 2000 have facilitated and accelerated the ratification process. With this, Bangladesh has now ratified seven out of eight ILO fundamental conventions. Ratification of the remaining convention (No. 138 on Minimum Age, 1973) is not foreseen in the immediate future.
Tripartism is an integral part of ILO's activities. Since the country has ratified C.144 on Tripartite Consultation, ILO has found it easier to ensure the principle of tripartism. All high level committees as well as project advisory committees of individual projects are tripartite in character, viz. National Steering Committee on Child Labour and several Project Advisory Committees of ILO TC projects.
Updated by CHW. Approved by RD. Last update:27 July 2001.