How has the suspension of trade union rights in January 2007 affected the garment industry? I have my own ideas but here is an anecdote to give you an indication:

Russell worked in the RM Sweater factory in Dhaka. Whilst working he developed a severe chest pain. He wanted to leave to get to a hospital. He was denied. Russell collapsed at the gate at 4.30pm. He died at the factory there and then. The factory usually stays open until 10pm everyday but closed that day at 5.30pm. The other workers soon worked out what had happened and took to the streets. This is a story from two weeks ago.

The difficulty of getting leave from a factory is a long standing complaint by garment workers. Pre-planned leave of absence is discouraged let alone an unexpected request. And we all know the tragic outcomes that the locked gate policy has had on workers in the past when fires have killed scores of women and children locked inside the factories.

So my take on it is simple. The caretaker government has effectively been denying the ability of garment manufacturers to reach a level of compliance with international labour standards. It’s a tripartite process and it requires the fullest participation of workers and their organisations. How can this happen if trade union activity is proscribed? If one of the players is not there, the garment owners are hardly likely to take up the cudgels themselves are they? And without compliance there will inevitably be a knock on effect on competitiveness.