Worker Empowerment and Advocacy in the RMG Sector (WEARS)


Project Period: 01 January 2017 - 31 December 2018

Working Area: Chittagong, Dhaka and Gazipur, Bangladesh

Donors: C&A Foundation


Context: The RMG industry in Bangladesh, the second-largest in the word, experienced significant reforms in the aftermath of two devastating events tarnishing its timeline, the Tazreen Factory Fire in 2012 and the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013. While these reforms focused on the improvement of the legal framework on workers’ rights, policies and institutional mechanisms for the safety of workers, their legal protection and accountability for negligent employers and authorities, they failed to accomplish any real change for RMG workers in their workplaces.

As burgeoning as the need is to enforce existing laws with regard to workplace safety, it is equally necessary to address the lack of basic working conditions, especially for women workers. The RMG workers have no appropriate platform to effectively voice their concerns and demands about workplace conditions with their employers and state enforcement bodies, and are unable to use legal remedies to have their basic workplace rights recognised and realised. The enhanced rights involving Trade Unions are also under-utilised. Legal aid for workers provided by the state is limited to engaging a lawyer for court representation, and there is little attention to the particular needs and concerns of women workers, who make up the majority of the RMG workforce, in the state’s policies. Since there are no systematic efforts to build the knowledge and skills of workers, in particular women, to participate in Trade Unions or in discussions or advocacy on working conditions, they are not being able to reach the broader coalitions outside the workplace and engage with the government to advocate for their rights and for changes in working conditions.

In this context, it is crucial to build the capacity of workers, in particular women workers, to on their rights with respect to working conditions, available remedies and services, and to enable them to participate in advocacy for change, so that they can play a part in activating existing laws that provide legal protection, safeguards and remedies. It is also necessary to ensure the effective functioning of Trade Unions and the involvement of the workers in policy-making and workplace reform, to effect a change in the power balance within factories so that employers become more responsive to the needs of their workforce.

 

Activities:

  • Establishing Self-Help Groups: Eight Self-Help Groups (SHGs) comprising both men and women, in areas where RMG workers live, to raise awareness, especially of challenges faced by women workers in accessing their rights, and advocate for change amongst a wider community of workers, ensure access to legal rights and remedies, enable the frontline delivery of legal services, create functional links with Trade Unions (TUs) within RMG factories, and build networks with civil society organisations and women’s and rights-based organisations.
  • Capacity Building: One training for the members of the SHGs, and 25 TUs operating in RMG factories, on negotiation and mediation skills and worker’s rights (including the right to organise, protection from sexual harassment or discrimination, equal pay, leave, and minimum wages), so that they can raise concerns and demands around improved working conditions with employers and state bodies.
  • Legal Awareness: Legal awareness sessions for SHGs to increase the workers’ knowledge and capacity as to their rights and entitlements, which will include empowerment sessions for the workers, one training session to create 25 women paralegals within the SHGs and one training session on RTI.
  • Legal Services: Organising mobile clinics in the evenings and on weekends, in the factory areas or worker’s communities, to provide legal information and advice and accept formal applications from workers seeking legal aid. Providing legal services such as advice, referral, mediation and litigation to help SHGs and TUs resolve their disputes, and to individual workers seeking legal redress.
  • Advocacy: Arranging advocacy meetings with the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Law Commission, National Human Rights Commission, Information Commission, and the National Legal Aid and Services Organisation in order for the SHGs and TUs to raise the demands and concerns of RMG workers, ensure compliance with existing laws, and encourage law reforms, reviews and enacting new legislation.
  • Developing Software: A software application providing comprehensive information on labour laws and rights, details of service providers, their addresses and responsibilities, and a BLAST hotline number to call to seek advice regarding legal remedies, to be made available to legal service providers, staff and panel lawyers and paralegals, through whom the workers will be able to access the app.


Expected Result:

  • 25 well-trained TU representatives, working closely and constructively with both workers and employers, are raising issues and demands about workplace improvements and negotiating for better wages and working conditions.
  • Eight SHGs, comprising trained and informed workers from outside the RMG factories, are working in collaboration with TUs and liaising with labour and women’s rights organisations to improve the condition of RMG workers.
  • A complaints monitoring system, developed by the Ministry of Labour and Employment, is in place to address sexual harassment complaints and concerns specific to women workers. Processes for recording and responding to such complaints and concerns are also activated through coordination between the MoLE, BGMEA and women’s groups.
  • RMG workers are able to receive direct advice, use mediation services for dispute resolution, have opportunities to access legal remedies through litigation and are referred to appropriate authorities for remedies.
  • Recommendations are made to MoLE, DIFE, NHRC and other bodies, for policy changes to ensure monitoring, coordination and more effective regulation in the RMG sector.
  • PIL is undertaken to ensure that public authorities and relevant statutory bodies carry out their legal responsibilities and comply with the Supreme Court’s guidelines on redress for sexual harassment, workplace safety, compensation, etc.
 

BLAST, YMCA Development Center, 1/1 Pioneer Road, Kakrail, Dhaka-1000, Bangladesh
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