Like previous years, the International Workers’ Day, also referred to as May Day has been observed on 1st day of May this year to commemorate the sacrifices of the working people. As we observed this Day, the facts remain somewhat indifferent, i.e. our workers are struggling to realise their due wages, establish safe working environment and demand trade union rights. A report by Safe and Rights Society, an NGO committed to improving workplace condition for labourers revealed that there have been 426 reported deaths in 2017 in workplaces, a sharp rise of 11.5% from 2016 (382).
The first schedule of the Bangladesh Labor Act, 2006, deals with the list of injuries deemed to result in permanent partial disablement and the compensations for such injuries whereas the fifth schedule deals with the amount of compensation payable in cases of death, permanent total disablement and temporary disablement. These, however, fail to do justice to families that have lost their major or only source of bread-earners and they are left to languish in poverty. Furthermore, these legal and social protection schemes do not cover the informal working sector which comprises 87% of the total laborers of Bangladesh. Additionally, Bangladesh has not yet ratified the ILO Conventions dealing with occupational safety health, especially Article 4 of the ILO Convention 155.
Another problem of our labor laws is that these exclude child domestic labour altogether and there is no monitoring system to ensure their protection or to enforce their rights. While the government has approved the Domestic Worker Protection and Welfare Policy 2015 of late, it is yet to implement the provisions strictly. Moreover, the rights and occupational safety of female laborers in their workplaces are extremely jeopardized here. Besides harassment in workplaces, be it formal or informal is a common scenario. To add to their woes, Bangladesh has not yet ratified the ILO Conventions relating to maternity protection and workers with family responsibilities.
There is a backlog of cases in our labour courts and the only labor appeal tribunal in the country. As such, getting legal recourse is quite a lengthy and tedious process. Also, lack of awareness and implementation of the laws is another barrier to seeking legal remedy. As such, the main aim of May Day should always be to raise awareness regarding the protection mechanism among the labourers, strict and constant implementation of the legal provisions and a call to the employers to abide by the laws and provide necessary facilities to the workers for a safe working environment. In this regard, the informal sector should also be brought under the legal framework.
Lastly, our labourers should be made aware of their right to form labor unions and collectively push for necessary reforms of the existing system. The labour courts should be better equipped to dispose of cases quickly and efficiently. The alternative dispute resolution mechanisms should be accessed more frequently. Finally, labourers should also be made aware of suing their employers under tort law provisions of employers’ liability in the civil courts. Most importantly, all in the labour sector should treat our workers with dignity and ensure their due rights in the workplaces.
THE WRITER IS A STUDENT OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF DHAKA.