Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

National labor laws

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > APPENDIX A: Laws and the struggle for decent, healthy, and fair work > National labor laws

Every country has its own national labor law that regulates the relationship between workers, trade unions, employers, the government, and the international companies or "brands." Worker health and safety might be part of the labor law or it might be part of the laws that regulate health.

To learn what the labor laws are in your country and how you can use them to fight for better conditions, ask a union, a law professor at a university, the labor department of your government, a lawyer at a legal aid organization or clinic, or the staff at a workers’ center. Do research on the Internet, too. Legal documents are often written in a way that is hard to understand, but you will likely find groups that have summarized and translated the law into words that are easier to understand.

Labor laws are sometimes written to protect workers and sometimes to protect business. Well-organized workers’ groups have been successful at influencing their governments to create or change laws to ensure workers are guaranteed safe and healthy work at a fair wage. It is just as likely, however, that what laws are passed and how they are enforced is heavily influenced by business interests. Having good laws on paper does not mean these laws are put into practice. That depends on how well you organize.

Bangladesh Labor Act

In many countries, workers must wait a long time for the government to legally define their rights. In Bangladesh, the first consolidated Labor Act was passed in 2006. While better than nothing, it did not sufficiently address many important issues, including insurance and compensation for injury or death, child labor, emergency exits in factories, and many others. Unions, worker organizations, employers, and legislators began meeting to expand and improve the Labor Act.

The Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health, and Environment Foundation (OSHE) was one of the groups that lobbied the government and drafted suggestions for improved labor laws. In July 2013, a few months after the Rana Plaza factory collapse, the government came under enough international pressure to finally amend the existing labor law. OSHE printed copies of the law to help distribute it among workers and students. OSHE also produced a poster about health and safety committees required by the new law, and began a 10-part training program for workers. As in other countries, the Bangladesh labor law still requires improvement. It also needs to be better respected by factory owners and better enforced by the Ministry of Labor and Employment. But workers now have a legal way to fight for their rights.