Bangladesh passes EPZ Labour Ordinance

Bangladesh published official gazette about the EPZ Labour Ordinance for the country’s eight Export Processing Zones (EPZs), employing more than half a million workers in factories inside those special industrial parks.

The EPZs are governed by a separate authority, the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA) administered out of the Prime Minister’s Office, and a separate law empowering the government to exempt a zone or any organisation thereof from the application of all or any of the provisions of all or any of  the Acts, or  may pass  order that the Acts or any  provision thereof shall, in its application to a zone, be subject to such  modification or amendments as may be specified therein, namely the Bangladesh Labour, Customs, Tax, Fire Safety, Boiler, Building Construction and any other laws, applicable to business and other entities in Bangladesh otherwise.

According to the new Bangladesh EPZ Labour Ordinance the workers of the factories inside the EPZs will now enjoy more freedom of association through Workers’ Welfare Association (WWA), which was already in place but with more restrictions, which have been relaxed  under pressure from international communities such as the EU, Canada, the International Labour Organisation and the US.

Some notable improvements include the lower threshold for formation of WWA from 30 percent to 20 percent; requirement of two-thirds, instead of three-fourths worker’s consent for calling strikes and lockouts in a factory in the EPZ and workers are now able to write the statute of the WWAs in line with the Bangladesh Labour Act, applicable to all business and other entities in Bangladesh.

The title of the WWAs has not been changed although the existing WWAs are supposed to function like Trade Unions.

The new Ordinance allows formation of WWAs in new industrial units within three months of their operation following three steps instead of twelve. It also guarantees job security to the elected leaders of WWAs in case of strikes and lockouts. The election of the executive committees of WWAs will be held within six months of the end of the tenure of a committee, down from one year previously.

The retirement, forced or voluntarily, benefits of workers at the age of 60 is increased to 45 from 30 days equivalent of monthly basic wages.

The new Ordinance also allows the officials of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) to inspect the factories housed inside the EPZs apart from the officials of BEPZA. Previously only the BEPZA officials could inspect the factories.

The DIFE is an autonomous government authority under the Ministry of Labour and Employment, responsible for health and safety inspection in factories and industries in Bangladesh. It also provides factories with information and training regarding worker’s safety and the enforcement of the Bangladesh Labour Act.

Factory owners have also given the go-ahead to form associations for bargaining their interests. As of fiscal year 2017-18 country’s eight EPZs employed 502,013 workers, invested $4.69 billion and exported goods worth $6.66 billion, according to data from BEPZA

Strict provisions have also been kept for unruly EPZ workers wishing to organize strikes without following the labour laws. They will be subjected to Tk 5,000 fine and/or six months of imprisonment.

The full in-depth report may be available upon request from the author.