Long-term education and labour rights are the focus of FES in Bangladesh

A participatory higher education system and a prosperous and socially just labour market are at the core of the ongoing work by the Dhaka-based team of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Bangladesh.

Given the evolution of the labour economy, new models of representation are essential to effectively safeguard workers’ rights. In Bangladesh, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung is bringing its wide experience of social democracy and social justice to bear in collaborating with the country’s workers, employer, thinkers, students and government representatives.

A flagship programme for FES in Bangladesh is the Academy of Work (AoW), a cross-sector three-month residential training programme for emerging young leaders from the trade union movement. The programme is implemented in partnership with two institutes, one focusing on labour studies (BILS), the other on governance and democracy (BIGD). It focuses on industrial relations, the economy and decent work along the global value chain. 

“The aim is to provide in-depth academic knowledge for a future generation of trade union leaders, so that they are equipped for discussions on the local, national and global level,” explains Tina Marie Blohm, Resident Country Representative at FES Bangladesh.

The specific FES approach is intended to complement the many trainings on worker rights and conditions held in Bangladesh. “In setting up an academy, fellows can share their views with other accross different labour sectors,” says Blohm. The mode of teaching is designed to build on the fellows’ own extensive experiences in the labour sector, so that practical and theoretical knowledge can merge and produce ideas for trade unions in the 21st century.

The next AoW session is set to start in August 2019. The training is focused on the full spectrum of workers’ rights, from the garment industry, to the beauty, telecommunication, banking, construction and health sectors.

The work of FES on the future of work has a focus on gender in Bangladesh. The organization has been supporting Narisramik Kantha (Women Workers’ Voice), a network, which brings together representatives of different sectors, trade unions and NGOs. One of the key aspects is linking the formal sector to the informal. The latter represents 87 per cent of the workforce, where organizing of workers is hard to be achieved and social protection measures are mostly lacking. 

Even in the formal sector, there are many challenges facing women. A study commissioned by Women Workers’s Voice and supported by FES shows that only 10 per cent of trade unions members are women, despite women making up 66 per cent of those who are employed in the garment sector.

From 2019, FES will be working on a multi-country, regional project, examining gender and the future of work. “With the gender asymmetry in the workplace, the story we are seeing is that automation tends to cost women their jobs, while men are employed at higher grades and hence do not lose their jobs that quickly”, observes Blohm. 

“The work of FES in Bangladesh can be framed as tackling four futures,” explains Blohm. “The first is the future of trade unions and the labour movement. The second is the future of work. Third is the future of higher education, which is of course linked to employability. And the fourth dimension of the future is regional cooperation.” 

Against the backdrop of FES’ work with the future of higher education, a significant topic for many young people in Bangladesh is access to these educations and questions over the quality of education they are receiving. On the one hand, there are public universities, which are oversubscribed and under-resourced, on the other there are private universities. The number of the latter has grown rapidly  since they were authorized in 1992 in a bid to ease the pressures on the public sector, and to make higher education more widely available.

FES has been closely involved in efforts to facilitate a dialogue between researchers and students on what the future of the higher education system in Bangladesh should look like. In March 2019, Dhaka University in collaboration with FES held the ‘Second Assembly on the Future of Higher Education’, building on the success of a previous event in 2018.

“We hope the exchange feels like a creative festival, a market of ideas on the future of higher education,” concludes Blohm. 

For more information on the work by FES in Bangladesh visit the official website of the FES office in Dhaka and follow their Facebook fan page for daily updates. 

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