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Cablegate: Government of Bangladesh Eases Ban On Trade Union

VZCZCXRO9286
PP RUEHCI
DE RUEHKA #1006 2671039
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 231039Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7432
INFO RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO PRIORITY 8616
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY 2346
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 9860
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 0832
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA PRIORITY 1458

UNCLAS DHAKA 001006

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB ETRD SOCI PGOV KWMN BG
SUBJECT: GOVERNMENT OF BANGLADESH EASES BAN ON TRADE UNION
ACTIVITIES ) LABOR SKEPTICAL.

Summary
=======
1. (U) The Government of Bangladesh (GOB) recently announced
a partial relaxation of the ban on trade union activities in
place under the State of Emergency since January 2007. The
new measures allow union activities, but limit the size of
gatherings and require advance permission in certain cases.
NGOs remain dissatisfied with the government,s actions,
however, and call for a full lifting of the ban on trade
union activities.

The devil is in the details
===========================
2. (U) The Caretaker Government had banned all trade union
activity as part of the general State of Emergency in effect
since January 2007. Trade unions were prevented from
performing basic functions including holding meetings,
conducting internal elections and engaging in collective
bargaining. On September 7th, the GOB announced a partial
relaxation of the ban. The new rules limit the size of any
meeting to no more than 500 people and require 48 hours
notice to authorities if the gathering is to be larger than
100 people. The rules also stipulate that meetings can only
be held indoors and that no live broadcast of the proceedings
on television or radio will be permitted. Moreover, no
political discussions will be allowed; individuals will only
be allowed to discuss labor-related matters.

3. (U) In meetings with the Ministry of Labor, officials
said the ban was relaxed so trade unions could carry out
administrative tasks and fulfill certain financial
obligations. Labor officials expressed the hope that the ban
would be relaxed further after national elections in
December. They agreed there was a need for constructive
trade union activity in Bangladesh.

Confusion and skepticism reign
==============================
4. (SBU) Workers, rights groups remain deeply skeptical
that this action will benefit workers in the long run. Labor
activists called for an end to the State of Emergency and a
lifting of all restrictions on union activities. The Country
Director of the American Center for International Labor
Solidarity (ACILS), the international development arm of the
AFL-CIO, reported that NGOs had not yet been able to obtain a
copy of the official notice announcing the new rules on union
activity and there was much confusion about the details of
the regulations. He noted that the GOB had allowed elections
that would permit workers to decide which unions can
collectively bargain with employers, but it was not yet clear
if the new regulations permitted elections to select union
leadership. He added that there were still bans on
negotiation with management and on the formation of new trade
unions.

Comment
=======
5. (SBU) It remains to be seen what the full impact of these
new measures will be on workers. Organized labor is correct
in pointing out that these are only interim steps and more
action is necessary if full rights of association are to be
restored. For its part, the Caretaker Government undoubtedly
remains concerned that trade unions could be used by the
political parties to advance their goals and foment civil
unrest, a common occurrence in Bangladesh,s history. Post
will continue to urge the GOB to support constructive
endeavors to protect the rights of workers, including a full
lifting of the ban on trade union activities.
Moriarty

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