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

SDIR Project update: December 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. The project intervention is primarily facilitating improved dialogue between employers and workers, particularly at workplace level.

The project, which is funded by Sweden and Denmark, runs from October 2015 to December 2020, and 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 as follows:

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) initially allocated 58 factories, later increased to 61 factories for piloting activities of the SDIR project. These factories comprise approximately 20 unionised factories, and 41 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 287 targeted non-unionised factories, collective bargaining training in 123 targeted unionised factories, and grievance handling training (including support to develop grievance handling procedures) in all 410 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 would be conducted in selected factories. The election committees would not comprise employer representatives. The BGMEA and BKMEA have identified factories to participate in this pilot. The guidelines for the pilot have been agreed with the employers and the Ministry of Labour and Employment.

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 to implement the pilot in October 2017. As of June 2018, the pilot model had 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

22 worker representatives from the National Coordination Committee on Workers Education (NCCWE) and IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC) and 11 employer representatives from the Bangladesh Employers' Federation, BGMEA and BKMEA have been trained on grievance handling in partnership with the ITC-ILO.

This pool of trainers are providing grievance handling training at the factory level through the Workers Resource Centre (WRC) and Centre of Excellence for Bangladesh Apparels Industry (CEBAI).

Master trainers in collective bargaining
33 participants (62% of them women) from workers’ (NCCWE & IBC) and employers’ organizations (BEF, BGMEA, BKMEA) have been trained on collective bargaining.

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 materials on collective bargaining, negotiation and human resource management have been finalized by the ITC-ILO in consultation with relevant constituent organizations.

Enterprise-level training
From August 2018, the Master Trainers developed by the SDIR project started training Participation Committee (PC) members at enterprise level. By December 2018, 14 workshops were conducted in which more than 800 PC members from 105 factories attended. The workshops covered training on Workplace Cooperation, Grievance Handling, Best Practice on Human Resource and Supervisory Skills.

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

Trade Union Registration Standard Operating Procedure
A 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.

Unfair Labour Practice Standard Operating Procedure
A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on unfair labour practices was developed by the ILO SDIR project. Following further modifications made by the Department of Labour (DOL), this SOP was adopted in August 2017.

Both the SOPs provide a uniform set of actions to be followed by the DOL to address trade union registration and 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.

In collaboration with ITC Turin, a workshop on Unfair Labour Practices targeting Department of Labour officials was conducted in August 2018.

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 discrimination.

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 were 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) were trained on international labour standards in April 2017. 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 Turin.

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 to form WRC. 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.

The renovation of the WRC office and training centre has been completed in October 2018 and the centre has been used for trade union related training activities

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 trade union training materials are being developed by the SDIR project. 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' rights and trade union management and leadership. The handbooks will be published by the Workers Resource Centre (WRC).

A validation workshop on development of training materials on gender equality, non-discrimination, leadership and trade union administration in the RMG sector was held on 2 to 3 December 2018 in collaboration with ITC Turin, ACTRAV and WRC. Inputs and feedback from trade union master trainers were collected for further development of training materials which will be used for the implementation of training and outreach activities.

Outreach activities for trade unions covering collective bargaining and negotiation and trade union administration will be conducted in the first quarter of 2019.

Development of a paralegal training course
The University of Dhaka conducted a writeshop on the "Development of Paralegal Certificate Training Curriculum" on 4-6 December 2018. Organized in collaboration with ITC-Turin, ACTRAV and the Centre for Advanced Legal Studies, the writeshop aimed at developing a training curriculum for paralegal professionals based on the context of the labour market and industrial situation in the RMG sector of Bangladesh. The training programme is planned to commence in the first quarter of 2019.

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 the ILO, Sweden and H&M and in collaboration with BGMEA. The project has facilitated the inclusion of the BEF on 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 410 factories through CEBAI  under an Implementation Agreement signed in December 2017 between ILO and 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 (of whom 10 were women) who are working in employers’ organizations (BEF, BGMEA and 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 within the scope of the SDIR project. The master trainers will 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.

Collaboration with Better Work

The SDIR Project in collaboration with Better Work Bangladesh (BWB) will work with 50 GAP factories to build their capacity in social dialogue and industrial relations.

Global Deal

The Global Deal together with the Swedish and Danish Embassies, and in collaboration with ILO SDIR Project organized a tripartite roundtable discussion on social dialogue on 25 September 2018. The event was attended by representatives of MOLE and DOL, employers organization (BEF, BGMEA and BKMEA), workers organizations (NCCWE and IBC), Workers Resource Centre (WRC), Centre of Excellence for Bangladesh Apparel Industries (CEBAI), brands such as H&M and GAP, and a Swedish trade union, IF metall.

The recommendations emerging from the roundtable included the need for (1) research and capacity building for TCC RMG; (2) government to play a key role in supporting social dialogue through the establishment of an appropriate regulatory framework; (3) communication strategy and knowledge sharing on labour disputes; (4) stronger emphasis on gender equality, and (5) sustained focus on social dialogue and related training.