The government has initiated a move to bring necessary changes in the existing labour law to make it time-befitting and address the European Union's (EU) concern over retaining the trade preference there, sources said.
To this effect, the ministry of labour and employment (MoLE) issued a circular on October 11, forming a 13-member tripartite committee, they added.
The government had last amended the labour law in 2018 and changed 50 issues in several sections and schedules.
Immediately after the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013, the government had also amended 87 issues in several sections, mainly due to international pressure for improving the labour rights especially in the country's readymade garment sector.
The committee, headed by a MoLE additional secretary, is comprised of representatives including two more members from the MoLE, one member each from the ministries of commerce, textile and jute, and industries, Bangladesh Employers Federation (BEF), Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA).
From the workers' side, Bangladesh Jatiya Sramik League, Samajtantrik Sramik Federation and Bangladesh Trade Union Sangha and a lawyer have also been incorporated in the committee.
The committee will prepare a draft of the amended labour law in line with the 'suggested actions on labour rights' provided by the EU in November last to continue the preferential tariff benefits there under the new Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), a ministry official said.
"The committee will submit the draft to labour secretary by March next," the official said, adding that two more representatives from the departments-DoL and DIFE - under the labour ministry will be included in the committee.
The EU and Bangladesh high ups held virtual meeting on October 20, resuming discussion on the labour rights roadmap which remained suspended since March last due to Covid-19 pandemic, ministry officials said.
As the European Commission's proposal for a new GSP regulation will take shape by the end of November, the need to finalise the roadmap and put the labour rights reform on a time-bound path appears to be more urgent than ever, the EU said last month in a note.
In November 2019, the EU provided the Bangladesh government with a list of suggested actions on labour rights to retain trade benefits under its EBA (everything but arms) initiative.
The EU, the largest export destination for Bangladesh, also asked the government to prepare a draft time-bound roadmap to address the issues.
Responding to the EU suggestions, the government in last January submitted a time-bound action plan to the EU to address their concerns within six months to five years.
The EU had incorporated nine issues including amendment to Bangladesh Labour Act, labour rules and Export Processing Zone (EPZ) labour law in line with the International Labour Organisation conventions, establishing an action plan to eliminate child labour by 2025, combating violence against workers, increasing success rate of trade union registration application, eliminating backlog of cases at labour courts, filling the vacant posts of labour inspectors, ensuring proper work of remediation coordination cell and ratifying ILO conventions on minimum age and forced labour protocol.
The European Commission in its third biennial report on the GSP in February last said that during the 2018-2019 reporting period, the European Commission services and the European External Action Service conducted monitoring missions in Bangladesh and found serious shortcomings in the area of the freedom of association.
The report said countries that are unwilling to address and engage on issues of concern are being more closely scrutinised and through enhanced engagement, the EU intensified the dialogue with three EBA beneficiaries - Bangladesh, Cambodia and Myanmar - to press for concrete actions on and sustainable solutions to serious shortcomings in respecting fundamental human and labour rights.
The main export items under EBA from Bangladesh to EU are apparel and clothing. Bangladesh fetched US$17.14 billion or 61.35 per cent of its total $ 27.94 billion RMG exports to EU in the last fiscal year.