Bangladesh has initiated to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s minimum age convention for admission into employment with intent to secure its duty-free market access to the European Union (EU).
The country expects duty-free access to the EU market after its graduation from the least-developed country (LDC) status.
Labour and employment ministry is set to prepare an action plan with cooperation from the EU and the ILO to proceed on the ratification.
The plan would focus on the ratification of the convention, forced labour protocol and fulfilment of other requirements to the EU.
Labour and employment secretary KM Abdus Salam said the action plan is set to be finalised by March.
In an EU-Bangladesh joint commission meeting in October 2019, both parties agreed to prepare a roadmap or action plan to ratify the convention.
Officials said the ministry concerned would assess feasibility for ratification.
It already sat with stakeholders and sought opinions of home, foreign, shipping, health, agriculture, jute and textile, expatriates’ welfare, social welfare, communication, commerce, environment and ICT ministries to this end.
As per the EU conditions, Bangladesh should ratify and comply with the conventions related to minimum age for admission into employment to continue duty-free access after its graduation.
Secretary Mr Salam said the process of ratifying the convention has started. It would need the Cabinet’s approval at the final stage.
A timeline would be set in the action plan for ratification of the convention, he added.
Md Humayun Kabir, joint secretary (international organisation) of the ministry, said the move to ratify the ILO convention as per the EU’s requirement has been made for the first time.
The Bangladesh Labour (amended) Act-2018 strictly prohibits employment of children under 14 in any factory or establishment and makes it a punishable offence, he added.
As per convention 138 of the ILO, the ratifying country should fix minimum age for employment to a level consistent with the fullest physical and mental development of young persons.
Bangladesh adopted the convention in 1973.
According to the convention, the minimum age shall not be less than the age of compulsory schooling and, in any case, shall not be less than 15 years.
No one under that age shall be admitted to employment or work in any occupation, it stipulates.
Mr Kabir, however, said the convention allows a member whose economy and educational facilities are insufficiently developed specifying minimum age at 14.
India, Sri Lanka and Cambodia enjoy the relaxation as per the convention, he mentioned.
Bangladesh needs to ratify 27 conventions to enjoy GSP+ in the EU after three years of graduation from the LDC status.
Of them, the minimum age for admission into employment remains pending for ratification, Mr Kabir said.
He said the issue remained pending for long as there was poor social protection coverage, but it has improved in recent times.
Monitoring of child labour in the industrial sector is important as social awareness can prevent the malpractice in the informal sector, he added.
According to the convention, the minimum age for admission to any type of employment, which by its nature or circumstances is likely to jeopardise health, safety or morals of young persons, shall not be less than 18 years with a provision for setting the age at 16 years on the condition of protecting health, safety and morals of young persons.
Welcoming the move, Dr MA Razzaque, Research Director at the Policy Research Institute, said Bangladesh was subjected to a lot of unfavourable scrutiny for not ratifying this international convention.
“The EU GSP+ trade preferential scheme required potential beneficiary countries to ratify this child labour convention and implement it,” he said.
Although for obtaining GSP+ other requirements need to be fulfilled, this was a relatively low-hanging fruit for Bangladesh to materialise, Mr Razzaque stated.
In the coming days, social, labour and employment standards will be critical as there are discussions on how the multilateral trading system will be reformed to make countries accountable for labour and working environment, he said.
The EU accounts for 58 per cent of Bangladesh’s total exports and 64 per cent of its total ready-made garment exports.