|Home | Issues | The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 37, Tuesday April 25, 2006|
A bleak future? The rights of low-paid workers
Bangladesh claims to be a country that honours the laws regulating employment. Is this truly the case? Everyday, in every avenue of life, rights of employees are being contravened. The victims are specifically the low-paid workers, whose dignities and personal welfare - in the view of the management at various organizations- should be lower than their wages.
Essentially, the rights of the every worker cover decent wages, safe working environments that permit sufficient light and ventilation, and, of course, freedom from physical torture and abuse. Broader issues include gender equality and abstaining from the use of child labour. International conventions such as the ILO Convention must also be complied with.
It is true that the Bangladeshi constitution as well as some statutes and conventions secure these rights. The Factory Act 1965, for instance, require any workplace having 50 or more women employees to provide day-care facilities. Other notable provisions include Conventions on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1984), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
However, the problem lies in the implementation. Many of these statutes, although formally ratified, have not been enforced in the proper manner. Further, many organizations and enterprises choose to pay no heed to these regulations, fearing excess burden and higher costs.
Suraia Haque, the Founder of Phulki, has taken a major step to improve the situation. Phulki establishes day-care centres in factories and offices, temporarily undertaking their management after which the factories can take over. It also offers management training. Her primary focus is the garments industry, which employs over a million people, mostly women.
This scheme, she says, balances both the rights of the employees and the interests of the employers. The mothers can leave their children in the centre, assured that they would receive proper care, education and food. On the other hand, the employers are benefited in terms of mothers returning sooner from maternity leave, lesser absenteeism, greater labour productivity, etc.
Many owners and managers are now moving away from the conventional views, and accepting these schemes.
Nevertheless, the real picture remains agonising in most parts of Bangladesh. Considering child labour, it is the most severe form of child exploitation. Statistics indicate that although Bangladesh makes up less than 2% of the world population, it accommodates 6.6 million working children. Most work up to 48 hours a week, for less than Tk 500 per month.
These children are often made to work in conditions hazardous to health. As a result, they grow up to be shorter, lighter, and more prone to injuries, accompanied by respiratory diseases and dizziness. Conversations with many of these children also reveal that they have been frequently subjected to physical and sexual abuse and punishment by starvation.
The Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) that ranks countries on the basis of indicators such as women's employment, management and leadership positions had in one of its recent UNDP reports, ranked Bangladesh in the 144 th position out of the 175 countries. This clearly indicates that women here lack the much-needed empowerment, much of it, as a result of gender stereotyping and stigmatised social norms.
Yet more terrifying is the fact that there are some professions which the laws do not regulate. For example, those concerning domestic help, luggage-carriers in train stations, and flower and candy sellers on the streets. This is a matter of concern as the employers can easily exploit them, without really being in breach of any statutory provisions.
On the other hand, the government may not be as "uncaring" as it first may seem. As pointed out by Shaheen Anam, the Team Leader of 'Manusher Jonno' and an activist herself, there are certain factors to take into account. One of the major problems the government is having to tackle with, is resource constraint. Implementation of laws and policies is expensive, and the establishment of regulatory bodies may not prove cost-effective at least at the initial stage.
Furthermore, she adds, the abolition of child labour may not be pragmatic, especially in the economic and political context of Bangladesh and many other developing nations. Poverty compels children to take up work, in order to support themselves and their families. Warding them off could plunge hundred and thousands of families deeper into poverty. Better would be to retain child labour, but alongside, passing laws to ensure basic children's rights in workplaces- for instance, making it mandatory for the employers to provide education to the junior employees, or improving the work environment.
All in all, it is unequivocally accepted that rights of low-paid workers should be protected and essentially be incorporated into the legal framework. While most NGOs and institutions are opting for a better situation, there are still many wide gaps to fill. Nevertheless, it is marvellous to see initiatives being taken, liberties being fought for, and attempts to raise the bar of rights for Bangladesh.
EuroKids a school franchise
When we think franchise in relation to Dhaka, we think fast food shops. After all, what else is there in this beloved city of ours? We have A&W, Pizza Hut and the like. The names could go on and on. But this time (thankfully!) we are talking of a franchise of a different kind.
EuroKids is a world renowned brand which already has its roots in 29 countries and is India's premier school chain. And for those of you wondering, it has been launched in Dhaka late last month and expects to be admitting by early next month. So at long last we have a school franchise to boast about!
A subsidiary of the Egmont International Holdings, (if you don't know what that is, think Disney and Tintin) EuroKids have been in existence in one form or another for a whooping 125 years. They started in India in 1997 and already have more than two hundred schools across fifty-nine Indian cities.
So aside from the impressive numbers, what does EuroKids offer that sets it apart from others?
For one, like every other franchise they want to incorporate the policy of Total Quality Management, or in this case Total Quality Education. EuroKids thrive on the vision that a child's education should not be restricted to books alone. To make for a well rounded individual it integrates a number of programs that they feel will help a child reach his full potential.
And for good measure, too. Because too often we see schools in our country heap our children with the most complicated of formal education giving them little or no chance to develop character traits by learning from the atmosphere around them.
So what are those distinctive programs? For one, they have a characteristic style for their pre-school segment where they adopt the philosophy of 'playing, learning and enjoying every minute.' In other words they are keen to provide a child-friendly ambiance where children feel at home and under the guidance of trained staff will hopefully become active learners.
Then they have my personal favourite, the EuroGym. I must admit it is visionary thinking. And it doesn't involve your toddler pumping iron for all he is worth! EuroGym is meant to reverse the trend of overweight and inactive children (we call them spring chicken) through programs that help a child find the joy in physical fitness and this gives him a heads up for the future.
Other such programs include, amongst others, EuroBooks, which will contain books and CD's to aid a child's early development. And because it is a subsidiary of Egmont, they will bring brands like Noddy, Barbie and Disney to be available to kids in the school and other designated bookshops.
So far EuroKids has been true to their word. Located at House 14, road 126 of Gulshan 1, the school has a gymnasium and other facilities for extra curricular activities.
EuroKids comes to Dhaka with a promise of enriching children's lives with education, entertainment and fitness. Based on their preparations one would have to admit that they are all set for a successful venture.
By Quazi Zulquarnain Islam
On the cover
Summer's here, with all its colourful flowers and juicy fruits. Take the plunge into Page 3 as we pay a tribute to this queen of seasons.
The mercury's rising, and the days are getting longer, and as the deadly deadlines approach, and the exam days grow near, it's hard to keep one's head. You can tell the heat is getting to everyone when you see policemen brutalising sports journalists. So, for fear of what may follow as the summer wears on (and it's no use thinking about air conditioners in the face of so many power-cuts), we've come up with some simple ways you can keep your cool.
Sunshine or rain
By Sabrina F Ahmad
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