IndustriALL, an organization focused on improving working conditions, recently brought together representatives from the government, shipbreaking yards, and local unions in Bangladesh. The purpose of this meeting, which took place on August 30th, was to discuss plans following the country’s endorsement of the Hong Kong Convention. This international agreement, officially known as the Hong Kong Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships (HKC), was ratified by Bangladesh and Liberia in June 2023. This ratification marked an important step towards the HKC coming into effect in June 2025. Once the convention is in force, breaking down ships in yards that don’t meet its requirements will become illegal according to international law.
This ratification success is a significant achievement for IndustriALL, which has been advocating for safer and more environmentally responsible shipbreaking practices since 2010. Shipbreaking yards in South Asia have gained notoriety due to accidents causing worker fatalities and negative environmental impacts. The HKC is designed to address these issues by setting standards for proper ship recycling.
In Bangladesh, shipyards are currently undergoing significant upgrades to align with the new international standards. This effort is being supported by a project called SENSREC, led by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
Kan Matsuzaki, assistant general secretary of IndustriALL, emphasized that as Bangladesh improves its physical infrastructure, it’s equally important to enhance its social infrastructure. This involves facilitating a fair transition toward sustainable ship recycling through open communication. In practical terms, shipyard owners are encouraged to acknowledge unions, engage in negotiations for collective agreements, establish joint health and safety committees, and participate in dialogues with both the government and unions.
The round table meeting included representatives from various Bangladeshi ministries, including industries, labor and employment, and the environment. Employers were represented by the Bangladesh Ship Breakers and Recyclers Association (BSBRA), while unions were represented by two of IndustriALL’s affiliates in the sector: the Bangladesh Metalworkers’ Federation (BMF) and the Bangladesh Metal, Chemical, Garments, & Tailors Workers Federation (BMCGTWF).
Mohammed Mominur Rashid from the Ministry of Industries, who played a key role in the ratification process, highlighted that shipbreaking had negatively impacted Bangladesh’s reputation. The country’s decision to ratify the HKC was driven by a sense of historical responsibility to reform the industry, safeguard workers’ lives and the environment, and create a better future.
A representative from BSBRA, Mohamed Zahuril Islam, who is also the managing director of the PHP shipyard, expressed satisfaction with the ratification. He noted that it positions Bangladesh as a global leader and stressed the importance of fostering trust between unions and employers. He also highlighted that unions can bring benefits to businesses, and addressed concerns about potential job losses due to yard upgrades and mechanization. The meeting delved into the concept of “Just Transition,” which involves managing the industry through significant changes via a collaborative social dialogue process.
During the meeting, participants openly discussed challenges faced by each group. Local unions brought up issues such as low wages, anti-union activities, and the absence of an ambulance service. The meeting examined the Indian model, where the International Labour Organization (ILO) is facilitating social dialogue workshops.
As a tangible example of progress, a union delegation visited the PHP shipbreaking yard on August 29th. This yard is the first in Bangladesh to comply with HKC standards. Workers at this yard are provided with top-notch protective gear, and ships are recycled systematically based on approved plans. The yard has facilities on-site to handle waste safely, including hazardous materials like asbestos, oil, and bilge water. There’s also an on-site clinic for regular health checkups of workers. Currently, there are four yards in Bangladesh that meet HKC compliance, with more expected to follow suit this year. All shipbreaking yards will need to meet these standards by June 2025.