Factory inspectorate, inspectors and inspection
Bikash Kumar Basak
Factory Inspectorate is the key enforcing body of the government of Bangladesh which is keenly responsible to enforce the laws relating to occupational safety and health within the ambit of the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006. It is not an ordinary body rather the Factory Inspectorate can ensure the proper application of occupational safety and health related provisions of Labour Act, 2006 throughout the country. Persons involved in inspection functions under the jurisdiction of the inspectorate are specifically known as inspectors. There are a number of inspectors involved in Factory Inspectorate who maintain the inspection function within their specified areas duly defined by the government.
Scope of Factory Inspectorate: The term 'Factory Inspectorate' is nowhere mentioned in the Labour Act, 2006. But such type of body of enforcement has been introduced mainly as the key driving-force of section 319 of the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006, and so it will not be more illogical to say that Factory Inspectorate is the administrative body based on section 319 in a sense to ensure the effective application of that said section.
Power of Inspectors: A more revolutionary change has been brought in the new Labour Act, 2006 regarding the power of the inspectors. According to the previous labour law inspectors would enjoy exclusive power to lodge any complaint against the wrongdoer with the labour court. The court would not receive any complaint even from an aggrieved person except from an inspector (section 107 of the Factories Act, 1965) while now under section 313 of the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 any aggrieved person or trade union itself can lodge a complaint with the labour court subject to some exceptions relating to chapter 13, 17 and 18 of the said Act. Moreover, inspectors have the following general powers:
(a) to enter any place, inspect and examine;
(b) to obtain, seize or copy any document;
(c) to make necessary examination or enquiry to determine whether any law or rules or scheme relating to workers of a particular factory are duly complied with or not;
(d) to obtain statement of a person employed in a particular factory or establishment;
(e) to obtain statement, record or signature to verify the accuracy of the obtained statement or examination;
(f) to summon or to produce explanation from any employer or anyone employed by him about any registrar, record, certificate, notice or any other documents;
(g) to apply any other power directed by the law or rules.
(Section 319, The Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006)
Inspection scenario, at present, in Bangladesh: There are currently eighty personnel involved in inspection activities throughout the country based in four divisional offices --Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi and Khulna having exclusive jurisdiction over 24,229 registered factories, about three million shops and establishments and two ports (one in Chittagong and the other in Mongla).
(a) Grade of the factory inspector: There are five different grades of inspector such as; Chief Inspector, Deputy Chief Inspector, Assistant Chief Inspector, Inspector and Assistant Inspector -- with the first two grades generally not being involved in any field of inspection activities. These inspectors are divided into four basic categories such as Inspectors of shops and establishments, Inspectors (general), Inspectors (engineering), Inspectors (health) and Dock labour safety officer.
(b) Process of inspection and investigation: In every month each inspector/assistant inspector draws up a plan setting out which factories he/she intends to inspect. After having approval from the deputy chief inspector, the inspector writes a letter to the factories authority informing them that he is going to visit the factory on a particular day while the dock labour safety officer does not draw up a list but waits until ships come to the port.
The process by which inspection takes place is different for different categories of inspectors like inspector (medical) and inspector (engineering). Each has his own checklist corresponding to duties imposed upon the factories in relation to 'health' and 'safety' respectively. If any violation is identified, the inspector marks this on the checklist (sometimes mark in a notebook) and at the end of the inspection, the employer (and worker representative) is asked to sign this document. The inspector then writes to the employer setting out the nature of the violation and a time period by which the violation should be rectified.
For certain violations (those involving bathrooms, staircases, cleanliness, electrical wiring, machine guards, personal protective equipment) a period of one month will be given; for other violations (involving day care centres, ventilation systems and lighting etc) a period of between three and six months is given; and for violations that require construction to take place, a period of more than six months will be provided. After the time period has expired a follow up visit will take place after first informing the factory by letter or phone. If the violation still exists, the inspector will then either give more time or take a decision to prosecute.
(c) Number of inspectors against the number of factories: As per the article 10 of the ILO Convention 81 relating to the factory inspection (which the government of Bangladesh has ratified) the number of factory inspectors will be sufficient to ensure the effective and result-oriented discharge of the duties of the inspectorate. Moreover, article 16 requires that the workplace shall be frequently inspected and as thoroughly as is necessary to ensure the effective application of the relevant legal provisions. But it is a very bad scenario that there are only twenty inspectors employed solely responsible for health or safety issues within a huge number of factories for the whole of Bangladesh, which is mere a story of dismay.
From the above figures, it is easily understood that the number of inspectors in our country are not quietly adequate against the existing factories to safeguard the health and safety matters of the workers in full swing. Very low inspections are taken and for this, most of the time reports relating to health and safety measure violations within the territory of the factories go unnoticed. In addition, whenever an inspector (engineering) carries an inspection, he is very much reluctant to look into only safety issues and this is also certainly same for the function of the inspector (medical). So, it requires two inspectors to be engaged all the time for the sake of having a complete health and safety inspection in a factory.
(d) Necessary equipment of the Factory Inspectorate: Article 11 of the ILO Convention 81 relating to the factory inspection requires inspectors to have “suitably equipped” offices and “transport facilities necessary for the performance of their duties in cases where suitable public facilities do not exist”. Moreover, “traveling and incidental expenses” should be reimbursed. But it is merely a provision contained in the report, not a fact at all. Anybody can find out the lack by simply looking into the inspectorate where exist very few computers and there are some chemical-testing equipment which are not used by the inspectors as these are too heavy to carry. Furthermore, absence of having private transport makes them more adverse to carry it.
(e) Transport facilities: It is another sad story of the inspectorate that inspectors do not have access to vehicles and so for undertaking an inspection they are bound to, finding no other way, depend on public transport. The Chittagong and Dhaka divisional offices each have a vehicle which is only used by the Deputy Chief Inspectors in charge of the respective offices and are not used by any active inspectors. In addition, it is very interesting that though there is a system of paying the public transport costs borne by an inspector, no expenses are paid if the factory is located within 5 km of the divisional office.
Steps to be taken to make it more efficient: Apart from the present scenario of Factory Inspectorate in Bangladesh, the present labour law, 2006 is no more a legally modernized weapon to run the inspectorate more efficiently. Most of the provisions relating to powers, functions, duties and even recruitment systems are not matched with the present need. If someone puruses these provisions thoroughly and deeply, then he will be able to reach at a conclusion that these are nothing but the mere replication of the previous labour laws (specifically the Standing Orders, 1965 and the Factories Act, 1965). Though the government implemented new Labour Act, 2006 from 11 October 2006 but no such remarkable provisions relating to inspection have so far been added to it. Whatever was pertinent in 1965 considering the whole socio-economic and industrial development of the country has now drastically changed and in this new era of globalisation as well as vast industrialisation, a more efficient, accountable, and specialised Factory Inspectorate has now become a crying need for the greater interest of the occupational health and safety of the workers. Apart from these the following steps should be taken to flourish the country's age-old structure of the Factory Inspectorate:
* Under the exclusive supervision and control of a central body, the government should maintain a system of sector-wise inspection and in this regard, existing ambiguity regarding inspection in construction sector should be removed.
* Inspection functions should be to secure the enforcement of the legal provisions including health and safety; to facilitate technical information and suggestions to both employers and workers concerning the most effective means of complying with the legal provisions; and to inform the government of any defects or abuses not specifically covered by the existing legal provisions. Especially for this, they should be duly acquainted with the relevant laws and regulations.
* Duly qualified technical experts as well as specialists having sheer proficiency in medicine, engineering, electricity and chemistry should be recruited and just after recruitment adequate training should be provided.
* Considering the number, nature, size and situation of the workplaces the number of inspectors should be sufficient and the number of inspection should be rampant. If the government takes initiative, as per section 9 (4) of the repealed Factories Act, 1965, to appoint each deputy commissioner as inspector in his respective district, then some additional inspectors will be added to the current list.
* The Inspectorate should be duly equipped with more advanced technologies and in the meantime for carrying these in the workplaces transport facilities should be available for them.
* The inspectors should be empowered to take prompt legal action whenever extreme violation is observed. But this additional power of the inspectors will not be absolute rather there shall be check and balance.
* There should be an internal monitoring body within the inspectorate solely responsible for monitoring the activities of the inspectors and it shall directly report to the higher authority
While the Labour Act says about the worker's rights, benefits and for decent workplace, inspectors are the sole administrative body making the laws more effective and conveying the fruits of the laws to the defined subjects of that particular law. There is no other alternative to rebuild a more functional and accountable inspectorate considering the present perspective and in absence of this, the highly updated legal provisions will remain merely as a blant weapon in the hands of the king.
Some of the information of this article is based on Factory Inspectorate Interview, 2006.
The writer is working with Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation (OSHE).