Bangladesh has become the model for workplace safety because of its heightened efforts in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza building collapse, said Srinivas Reddy, the outgoing country director of the International Labour Organisation.
“Now, there are so many countries in the world that are looking to implement the Bangladeshi model for workplace safety,” Reddy told reporters before departing for Geneva to take up his new post at the ILO headquarters.
The Indian was appointed the ILO country director for Bangladesh in 2013 — just after the Rana Plaza collapse that claimed 1,138 workers’ lives and maimed 2,500.
Following the tragic event, the private sector, the Bangladesh government and the ILO joined hands to arrange $30 million as compensation for the victims and bring wholesale improvements in workplace safety.
“We want to work closely with the government for further improvement,” Reddy said, while calling for making the Remediation Coordination Cell a credible, one-stop service centre.
Managing $30 million to compensate the Rana Plaza victims was an uphill task. The compensation was made following the ILO Convention 121, which deals with the payment to victims in case of industrial accidents.
The government should adopt it as a national employment insurance legislation, so that the victims can get appropriate compensation and without hassle after industrial accidents, Reddy said. Germany, the ILO and the government signed a letter of intent to introduce a national employment injury insurance scheme in Bangladesh. “I hope it happens soon.”
He suggested the factory owners fully utilise the funds offered by donor agencies for the purpose of remediation.
“Bangladesh should take workplace safety seriously. Those who have not completed the remediation yet should complete it as soon as possible.”
Reddy said if any tragedy strikes for their delay in remediation, the whole sector will be affected again.
The ILO official also touched upon the gradual shift towards automation in the garment sector. In 2013, about 4 million workers were employed in the garment sector; that number has now contracted to 3.5 million because of automation at factories.
“Automation is the reality of the current situation because the industry wants to be more competitive and productive. But, at the same time you have to create jobs for the unemployed youth.”
Besides, Reddy said, many small and medium-sized factories have gone out of business, so it should be looked at how support can be extended to such factories so that they do not shutter and cause job losses.
He also recommended the apparel makers invest more on high-end and value-added garment items. “This would be wise because it will bring more value and create more jobs.”
Reddy is not opposed to the idea of sub-contracting. “If a small facility can produce in a complaint manner I do not think buyers will disagree.”
He called for widespread use of social dialogues to resolve any crisis in the garment sector.
“Social dialogues should be practised even if there is no crisis. I am happy that the practice of social dialogue among the factory owners, union leaders and government officials has started in the country. Good industrial relations are also good for business.”
The ILO has been working in four particular areas in Bangladesh on a priority basis: workplace safety, skills development, social dialogues and migration of workers.
The migration has become a major issue for Bangladesh over the years as there are so many unskilled workers who choose to migrate from this country.