Struggle for workers’ rights need to be sustained
WITH Bangladesh set to join many other countries across the globe in the observance of May Day today, to commemorate the sacrifice made by the workers of the Hay Market of Chicago 126 years ago, a dispassionate look at what the state has done so far to protect and promote the rights of the working class may be in order. While the state minister for labour and employment, in an exclusive interview with New Age, to be published today, has sought to highlight the Awami League-led government’s ‘successes’ on this count in the past three years or so, e.g. increase in the duration of maternity leave from two months to six months, upward revision of retirement age in the public sector from 57 to 60 years, institution of minimum wage in 42 public and 24 private sectors, etc, the general state and status of workers have remained generally unchanged, if substantially deteriorated.
In fact, a series of imprudent policies and actions by the government — e.g. increases in the price of fuel oils, compressed natural gas and electricity, which have had direct and indirect impacts on the cost of living — has piled on the misery of the people at large. Meanwhile, inflation has hovered around unprecedented levels, eating into the real income of the people, forcing them into making painful adjustments in their expenditure. Late last year, a study revealed that a sizeable section of the populace has been forced into cutting down on their food budget, compromising their and their family’s nutrition security. There is hardly any reason to believe that the workers — both in the public and private, formal and informal sectors — have been immune to the fallout of high inflation. With their purchasing capacity on sustained decline and the cost of living poised to increase, again thanks to the government and its policies and actions, mere survival has become a major challenge for the majority of the workforce and would continue to do so.
What’s worse, certain issues related to workers’ rights have remained largely unresolved, despite the lofty electoral pledges of the AL-led alliance. The ever-increasing number of cases pending with the seven labour courts and labour appellate tribunals provide a poignant example in this regard. As of April 27, 11,900 cases remain pending with these courts and the number is set to rise as 600-700 new cases are lodged every month. Moreover, one of the courts is operating without a judge and four without a registrar. As such, while the labour law dictates any case to be resolved within 60 days of its filing, many cases have remained pending for years on end.
The nature of the cases, mostly related to ‘claims of unfair dismissal’, ‘non-payment of wages’, ‘trade union rights’, etc and filed by readymade garments workers, tends to indicate that exploitation of workers continue, especially in the RMG sector, which has time again witnessed labour unrest in recent times. The delay in disposal of the cases only increases the possibility of aggrieved workers taking to the streets. Yet, the government has apparently done precious little to either increase the number of labour courts or equip the existing ones with adequate personnel. Moreover, as evidenced in the past, the incumbents have more often than not sided with the owners at times of labour unrest and sought to employ force against agitating workers.
Overall, despite its lofty rhetoric about workers’ welfare, the government has not thus far shown the requisite earnestness to protect and promote the workers’ rights. As it observes May Day, it needs to revisit its pledges and renew its resolve to translate them into reality. The workers, meanwhile, need to understand that they need to sustain their unity and struggle to secure their rights; after all, May Day is about sustained struggle for rights.
comments powered by Disqus