The European Union (EU) is still concerned over worker safety in the garment sector, despite measures taken to strengthen factory standards, according to the head of the visiting delegation of the European Parliament.

A four-member delegation of the European Parliament arrived in Dhaka yesterday to assess the post-January 5 general election scenario, human rights situation and progress of the implementation of the measures adopted to improve factory safety and workers’ rights, notably the EU-Bangladesh Global Sustainability Compact.

Bangladesh failed to deliver on most of the commitments, according to the working paper for the Meeting on GSP, Presided over by the Commerce Minister.

  • At least half of the garment factories in Bangladesh did not pay the new wage scale effective from 1st December 2013, according to the media reports.
  • Recruitment of 200 additional inspectors by the end of 2013 was not achieved. Only 40 were recruited, according to the media reports.
  • Ensuring the Right to Organise through formation of trade union in the (military run) Export Processing Zones (EPZ) in conformity with Bangladesh Labour (amendment) Act 2013. It is one of the major requirements of the United States of America. The EPZs are governed by a separate agency, the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority, and by separate laws. By tradition, the authority has been run by a military officer, active duty or retired, and many factories have hired retired soldiers to oversee security.
  • Ensuring the structural integrity of the factory buildings and to improve occupational health and safety of the workers by June 2014 has also not seen any solid advancement within the stipulated timeframe.

European Parliament Member (MEP) Mrs. Jean Lambert, Chair of the Delegation for relations with the countries of South Asia is leading the delegation during its two-day visit on March 24-25.

“The people in Europe who have elected us are really concerned over the safety in the garment sector in Bangladesh,” Mrs. Lambert told reporters after a meeting with Commerce Minister Mr. Tofail Ahmed at the latter’s secretariat office in Dhaka. “We mainly discussed issues relating to the garment sector at the meeting. We talked about the progress made by Bangladesh in strengthening safety measures for the workers,” Mrs. Lambert said further.

Bangladesh also pledged to strengthen safety standards in the Global Sustainability Compact, the agreement the country signed in Geneva involving International Labour Organisation on July 8 last year, she said.

After two industrial disasters in the country—the Tazreen Fashions fire and Rana Plaza building collapse—IndustriALL Global Union, the federation of global trade unions, initiated the Bangladesh Accord to ensure safety in the factories through rigorous factory inspections over the next five years.

The commerce minister of Bangladesh Mr. Tofail Ahmed said the government would complete the recruitment of 200 factory inspectors by March 31. “Of the 200 inspectors, 67 will be first-class officers and the rest will be recruited in different categories,” Mr. Ahmed said.

The labour and employment ministry is scheduled to inaugurate the workers’ database, a requirement of the agreement, on March 27. “The export processing zone laws are also being amended, as it is also a requirement for factory safety,” the minister said.

The minister said China is ready to finance construction of the garment palli on 500 acres of land at Bausia in Munshiganj.

The visiting delegation of the European Parliament held a meeting with the ambassadors of eight European country missions in Dhaka on the first day of their visit. Later, they separately met Foreign Minister Mr. A H Mahmood Ali and BNP Chairperson Mrs. Khaleda Zia.

The delegation is due to hold a meeting with the Election Commission and call on Mrs. Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, speaker of the House, and Mrs. Sheikh Hasina, prime minister, today. They are scheduled to leave later in the day.

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Mr. Kauser Bhuiyan is a former EU diplomat and Wall-Street professional who gained nearly two decades of professional experience at Accenture, Bloomberg, European Commission and Stein & Partners. He learned professional skills in the areas of Change Management Consulting, International Financial Market, Economic Co-operation and Sustainability Advisory services in Frankfurt, Zurich, London, New York, Brussels, Islamabad and Dhaka. Mr. Bhuiyan can be reached at to[at]bangladeshinside.com
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