Organizing Unions Recommended for Adapting to Climate Change Impact in Bangladesh
The study done under auspice of Solidarity Center and USAID at Khulna and Jashore regions of Bangladesh

The low-wage workers employed in the fish processing and packaging industries, rice mills, hatcheries, other farm and non-farm sectors in Khulna and Jashore regions of Bangladesh were  found typically unaware about their involvement of trade unions, according to a new study.

The ignorance about unions kept the workers, in fact, deprived of availing assistance and services for their better pay and conditions at the workplaces, said experts.

As a key strategy for informing workers on how to adapt to the impacts of climate change and create the conditions for decent work everywhere, the new study recommended improving respect for freedom of association and capacity building of workers to organize unions in these regions.

The study ‘Intersection of Climate Change, Migration and Changing Economy’ done under the auspice of the Solidarity Center and the USAID at Khulna and Jashore regions of Bangladesh in May was formally launched from Washington DC of United States of America (USA) on July 2, 2020.

Dhaka University’s International Relations Professor Syeda Rozana Rashid who led the research told Migration News that the organizing trade unions of the low wage workers in these study regions was urgently needed to help reduce the impact of climate change and also ensure decent works for the workers.

 ‘Freedom of association of the workers is very important. Workers’ capacity should be enhanced to organize the trade unions which can play great role to implement decent work agenda of the International Labour Organization,’ she said.

The lead researcher found various discriminations and wage gaps between men and women employed in various sectors in the research areas and she suggested reducing the gaps immediately.

This would be an opportunity and a space for unions to be more active and educated workers on the benefits of belonging to a union.

The study interviewed low-earning men and women engaged in a wide range of activities including agricultural work, factory work, domestic work, transport work and petty trade. The largest number of people interviewed worked in the fish processing and packaging industries, while the second largest group was engaged in small business in Khulna.

Conversely, in Jashore a combination of agricultural, domestic, rice mill, hatchery and transport workers were interviewed.

Among the 50 interviewees, only one transport worker was aware of an association of rickshaw pullers in his area, but he was not a member of that union. In the rest of the cases, interviewees either did not know whether a union existed in their occupation or were aware and not willing to become a member.

Workers interviewed for the study were found to be more dependent on their social and family networks for job opportunities and other economic activities/opportunities.

In cases of migration, respondents cited push factors such as unemployment, low wages and the lack of agricultural production at home.

Thus, respondents did not directly identify climate change as a motivating factor in changing employment activities and in their decision to migrate.

However, they provided evidence that suggested that the underlying causes of migration and newer types of economic activities emerged from the need to adapt to both rapid and slow changes in the climate.

Since the study was conducted for an initial assessment and to capture preliminary effects of climate change, it was unable to go into detail with regard to the implications of coping and adaptation strategies that people employ in response to a changing climate.

Effect of Climate Change

The study found that Khulna and Jashore were affected by climate change differently. While slow changes such as salinity and rapid changes such as cyclones were affecting agriculture and people’s way of life in Khulna, manmade projects such as embankments and canals to protect land and agriculture have created permanent water logging and flooding that threaten traditional agricultural livelihoods in Jashore.

In both areas, people have taken up non-farm economic activities to deal with climate-related problems.

For example, low-income people in Khulna have pivoted to work in shrimp and fish processing factories, rickshaw pulling and domestic work. In Jashore, many people have become transport workers while others work in rice mills and local industries.

The study also found participation of both men and women in these sectors, although women’s wages were lower than their male counterparts in all occupations.

Changes in Economic Activities

In many cases, the study found that new economic activities chosen by local and migrant farmers were not profitable enough for them. Most respondents explained that they had to live hand to mouth. None of the respondents were part of any well-designed adaptation strategy undertaken by the government or another agency.

Based on the findings from survey, key informant interviews and focus group discussions, the study presents the suggestions that include reducing impact of climate change, raising awareness about climate change and its impacts, decentralization of economic activities, providing skills training and seed money, creating a database of workers, extending overseas migration services and reducing wage discrimination between men and women

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