The establishment of workers’ rights in Bangladesh’s readymade garment sector has a long way to go, despite improvements since the Rana Plaza collapse, a new survey suggests.

Conducted by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and presented at a seminar in Dhaka last week, the survey found that 97.5% of factories in Bangladesh’s RMG sector don’t have trade unions. The research also found that workers’ organisations in the garment factories continue to remain either weak or non-functional.

The survey report was presented at a seminar titled: ‘Conference on Transformation in the RMG Sector in Post-Rana Plaza Period’.

According to Bangladesh’s The Independent, human rights groups and trade union leaders told those present at the conference that the key barriers to instituting workers’ rights are the factory owners’ generally negative attitude towards unionism, lack of trust between factory owners and workers, and the workers’ lack of knowledge regarding their rights.

CPD research director, Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, led the team that conducted the survey by collecting data from 3,856 factories employing 3.6m workers. Of the factories surveyed, around 50% were small businesses, 42.5% were medium, and 7.4% were large.

Presenting the keynote paper at the dialogue, Dr Moazzem said most of the Rana Plaza victims have received financial support, but that it was not adequate, while a substantial number of those injured are still unemployed.

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“The aid for the injured victims should be more institutionalized. We think long-term support is still needed for these injured workers, especially for those who are still living outside of cities. The government should also expedite the process to work on a universal insurance scheme.”

Also speaking at the event, economist Rehman Sobhan said the tragedy of Rana Plaza would have never have happened if the workers had been under the institutionalized protection of a union.

“Unless the right to form an individual union in individual enterprises is given, the core issue of the problem will not be addressed,” he said, adding that the unequal relationship between the entrepreneurs and workers was the main evil in the RMG industry.

He said the right to form unions in one form or another would address the problem because it would ensure the bargaining power of the workers becomes equitable in the relationship.