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Cablegate: Bepza Claims Progress On Elections and Resolving

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 003132

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB ETRD PHUM PREL BG BGD
SUBJECT: BEPZA CLAIMS PROGRESS ON ELECTIONS AND RESOLVING
ALLEGATIONS OF MANAGEMENT REPRISALS

REF: A. DHAKA 1765
B. DHAKA 2414

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. BEPZA, with a revised count of factories
that need to have elections, said that elections will be
completed within weeks, arbitrators will be hired to resolve
labor-management disputes, and "conciliators" will train
workers on labor issues after elections, While a number of
allegations of management intimidation and firings remain
unresolved, the BEPZA chairman has reviewed others and is
working towards their resolution. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) On July 3, Poloff informed Bangladesh Export
Processing Zone Association (BEPZA) Executive Chairman
Mohammed Zakir Hossain that the AFL-CIO has again petitioned
the USTR to remove Bangladesh's GSP benefits. Hossain said
that BEPZA has made progress in implementing the law. He
presented a new count, dated June 30, that of the 218
companies in operation in Export Processing Zones (EPZs),
elections have been held in 163. He added that the actual
count of companies eligible for elections is only 173 because
the other companies have not been in operation sufficient
time to be required under the law to hold elections. He said
the remaining elections will be held within weeks.

3. (SBU) When reminded that he had said in mid-December that
he would be finished with all elections within four months,
Hossain replied that he would have been finished earlier, but
taking into account American Center for International Labor
Solidarity's (ACILS) suggestions "took additional time."

4. (SBU) He cited the hiring and training of 30-40
"conciliators," funded by the World Bank, who will provide
training and counseling to workers at factories who have had
Worker Recreation and Welfare Committee (WRWC) elections as
additional progress in the implementation of the EPZ law. He
noted that the first class will graduate July 3 and will be
in field within the week. He expected to hire another 20
within months.

5. (SBU) When asked about notification and training of
workers on the law and the process of the elections, prior to
the elections, Hossain admitted that not every worker has
been given a copy of the election law. However, he insisted
that his election training teams had instructed workers at
every factory. When asked about allegations that only
selected workers were given such training, he sidestepped the
question by noting that workers often move to different
shifts to accommodate workload needs.

6. (SBU) When asked about allegations of management
interference, intimidation, and firings of workers, Hossain,
unlike two months ago when he said he had no knowledge of
allegations (ref A), said he had a list of 18 allegations
that they have investigated, of which a number have been
resolved. When asked if his list would match a similar list
that ACILS might have, he admitted that probably there would
be more.

7. (SBU) Poloff asked about the allegation involving a
Chittagong-based employee at Sasha Denim Ltd.(ref b), who was
allegedly fired for his advocacy for the WRWC. Hossain
replied that he had asked the "fired person" to come to
Dhaka, but that he had not shown up yet. Hossain added that
he as the Executive Chairman had not yet approved the firing
of the person. However, Hossain admitted that the individual
had not gotten his job back, that the sacking was contrary to
the law but complained that he was powerless to force
management to take back an employee.

8. (SBU) When asked how he planned to handle management-labor
disputes, Hossain said that he was in the process of hiring
arbitrators, who he wanted to be former judges, to rule on
such problems. He said he wanted the process to be
"transparent" but would not comment on whether the laborers
could have outside assistance in such cases.

9. (SBU) In response to question about individuals, on their
own time, going to a local USG-supported labor NGO, located
out of the EPZs, to obtain labor information prior to
elections, Hossain said that this is contrary to section 87
of the EPZ Law. He said that the labor NGO, "Bangladesh
Independent Garment Union Federation (BIGUF), is a political
organization," and the law prohibits workers from associating
with political organizations. When asked how one person can
meet the criteria of law, which prohibits workers
associations from associating with political organizations,
he replied that "in Bangladesh, everything is political," and
"one worker becomes 10" and soon it is a political party.

10. (SBU) When pressed on the allegations and their effect on
the AFL-CIO petition, Hossain noted that there were 2 to 3
other major allegations to be resolved, such as BEPZA's
disagreement at one factory over a mass firing of 50 workers.
He said he has acted forcefully on a number of occasions,
as when he revoked the work permit of a recalcitrant factory
manager of LSI Ltd, a Taiwan based maker of garment
accessories, and has threatened to revoke the export license
of others. He complained that some factories are better
equipped to deal with the elections than others, but smaller
factories with only a few management staff are having a
difficult time coping with elections. Others, such as
Koreans, with their history of violent labor problems,
complain bitterly over the EPZ law, which was seen as a
betrayal of the original EPZ agreement which brought them to
Bangladesh. He also complained that BEPZA was not designed
to hold elections and that he is short staffed. Under such
conditions, he said it was difficult for BEPZA to get some
managers and "illiterate workers" to resolve these
allegations.
CHAMMAS

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