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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 217
December 3, 2005

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Star Law Analysis
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Star Law Analysis

Labour laws befitting the workers

Alok Sarkar

Since 1992 a process of reforming the existing labour laws of the country has been process on. Demand from the concerned quarters to remove the lacunae in regards to implementation process and the complexities within the laws, resulted in a commission headed by a Parliament member and comprised of the members from the representatives of the owners and workers, law experts, Govt. officials and the industrial relations expertise. The commission proposed a recommendation compiling and amending all the existing labour laws and ordinances and subsequent rules and orders. The draft recommendation for the proposed reformation of the labour law could hardly bring forward any significant change except compiling the Acts, Ordinances, Regulations, Awards et cetera in a single volume which were scattered in different volumes in different names.

The law of minimum wage
The Minimum wage ordinance and subsequent rules of 1961 laid the responsibility on the Government to declare the minimum wages for the workers of different industrial sectors. The ordinance was a promulgation to replace the minimum wage act 1957, which was in fact the result of the persuasion of the Royal Commission for labour law formed in 1929 in the then British India and taking into account the law was passed by the provincial assembly of the then East Pakistan. Initially the act of 1957 was effective only for the scheduled sectors of Inland water transport, Textile (Cotton, Wool, Synthetic Silk and Jute), Sugar, Safety Matches, Rubber, Tea and Paper & pulp industries sectors. But The Ordinance of 1961 includes all other industries within the purview of minimum wage act. The minimum wage ordinance of 1961 also bind up the concerned authority with responsibility the periodical review of minimum wage rates for all sectors in every 3-years considering the expense of livelihood in respect to prevailing economic condition.

If implemented this law of minimum wage can solve the problem of the workers to the great extent. Example can be cited from the fixation of minimum wage for the garment sector in 1994. It was Taka 930.00 for workers joining anew in a factory. But after the expiry of long 11/12 years no periodical review was made for the minimum wage in this sector, which is claimed to be the sector, earning the 76% of the foreign currency for the country. Prices of the essentials and consequently the cost of living has been increased many folds by this 10 to 12 years but the minimum wage for the garment workers as per the legal provision remains as same as that of, declared in 1994. It is true that, some of the garment factories pay their workers more than Taka 930.00 as minimum wage which are the few exceptions and also not sufficient as per the provision of law. In majority cases the minimum wages of the garment workers are paid as of and some times less of that fixed in 1994, last 10/12 years back. So far off from the future savings for livelihood, the garment workers live on at the cost of utter sufferings including malnutrition, mal treatment or no treatment in illness, dwelling in the unhealthy and insecure slums and so on.

Factory Law
Long back in 1881 under the pressure of the Lancashire Mills owners Association and the Manchester Chamber of Commerce “The Factory Act” in British India was first introduced. Though it was enacted to serve the purpose of competition with the products of the then British India by two above mentioned business groups still it was the first law which effectively helped the workers of British India. In the then Pakistan The Factory Act, 1965 and the subsequent rules of 1979 came into effect, which may be considered as the continuation and enrichment of the factory law of 1881. Like many other laws this Factory act and rules were accepted in Bangladesh and was included as labour law. The Factory Act, 1965 and the subsequent Rules of 1979 provides the provisions of compulsory prior permission from the Chief Factory inspector regarding the construction and expansion of any part thereof, of the factory building, it fixes the limit of the daily and weekly working hours of the workers, make provisions for the compulsory weekly holidays or compensatory holidays, festival leave, annual leave, casual and sick leave and as per the Maternity Benefit Act of 1939 the law provides the full pay maternity leave for the women workers. But due to lack of implementation, rather it should be said that the absence or negligence of the law enforcing authority in this sector made these provisions of law ineffective. Without going into the in-depth inquiry any one can observe the frequent violation of the Factory Act and the Maternity Benefit Act in our industrial sectors run by the private entrepreneurships.

In the eighties of the last century there was open opportunity for the garment business, especially in the least developed or developing countries. Eventually with few exceptions the garments factories were established in and around Dhaka city without the compliance of factory laws. Most of the buildings in the residential areas, built for residential and the purposes other than the factories were turned to Garment factory buildings. The factory law of the country imparts corroborative responsibilities upon the employers and the chief factory inspector from the part of Government to ensure the specifications for the buildings to run those as factories. But as it mentioned except the few exceptions, the factory laws were grossly ignored. To prove the ignoring of factory laws one need not put fingers to the disastrous incident of Spectrum Garments of Savar or series of fire incidents and consequent stampede in Garment factories over the years claiming hundreds of lives of helpless workers. One can see the deadly stair cages hanging from the top of the garment buildings indiscriminately situated in the city areas used to be called the emergency exit and far off to serve the purpose of emergencies as contended in the factory law and it will not be an exaggeration to mention that there is no instance of any punishment for any of the owners running the factories within those buildings which do not comply the provisions of law. So accidents in garment factories and possibilities of disasters continue to exist. The authority responsible for also ignores the gross violations of the provisions of laws to ensure the working hours and holidays and the overtime payments for the workers. Very often the clamours against the employers by the workers are observed specially in the garment sector on the above issues.

Law of profit sharing
In 1968 the “Companies profit (workers' participation) Act” was enacted and in 1976 the rule was made accordingly. The contention of the law is that if a company having fixed capital of Taka 10 million and paid up capital of Taka 5 million at the end of the financial year and employs at least 100 workers in any time at any shift in the year, shall create a "Profit sharing fund" depositing 5% of the neat annual profit. The amount will be distributed as participation fund and welfare fund in a proportion 90% and 10% respectively. Trustee Board formed under this law shall manage the scheme of participation fund and the welfare fund. The law also ensures the distribution of 2/3 of the participation fund among the workers in cash each year. Apart from this the 1/3 of the participation fund and the welfare fund has to be utilized for the purpose of the workers as decided by the trustee Board.

AS per the existing situation in the industrial sector, there seems no policy to ensure the future of the workers. For the Industries, exit may cause for different reasons. The product may loss market, the company may change the business and for many other reasons stemmed out in this competitive free market economy. But Law in practice provides only one months salary for every year of service to leave a worker out of job. The above legal provision, which is also not always abided by the employers, can ensure the minimum subsistence of a worker who loses his or her job especially at the age when it is difficult to acquire skill and knowledge for different job. This “Companies profit (workers' participation) Act” can help the workers in absence of any exit policy for the industries run by the private sector if implemented. But unfortunately there is no such authority to compel the companies to implement this law.

Effective reformation of labour law can help
The concerned quarters who found the difficulties in implementation of labour laws and its complex nature and that is why demanded a reformation in no way will be satisfied with the mere compilations of laws in a one volume. It needs the removal of the lacunae those keeping the laws as ineffective and thus termed as obsolete.

There are laws both for the workers and employers. Only the strict provisions for the surety of their implementations can make the reformation of labour laws befitting for a real and good production relation and a healthy economy for the country.

The author is an advocate and working with Karmojibi Nari, an initiative of working women.


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