Govt, owners prefer use of force to negotiationsShahidul Islam Chowdhury
‘Paradigm shift’ in settlement of labour issues
The government and most of the private companies now prefer use of force involving political leaders and the police to lawful negotiations with trade unions for settlement of labour disputes, labour leaders say.
Settlement of labour disputes out of conventional lawful negotiations eventually encourages discriminatory attitude in owners in their treatment of workers, including pay, rise of partisan interests, labour unrests and violence in industries, large or small, they say.
‘Most of the company managements want local
influential politicians and police to intervene whenever workers place a charter of demand and stage peaceful demonstrations to press their demands,’ Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies assistant executive director Sultan Uddin Ahmed told New Age.
Instead of pursuing lawful process to resolve labour disputes, he said, the government and the company managements now tended to use ‘force’ with the help of local political muscles and police to contain workers’ movement and shun negotiations on their demands.
It has become a practice that members of parliament are tasked for resolving labour disputes in respective areas.
The government also prefers to resolve workers’ unrest through ‘announcements’ made by ministers, Ahmed said.
They deal with labour issues, which are actually economic and rights issues, as law and order issues. ‘It is a paradigm shift in the process of resolving labour disputes’.
Sramik Karmachari Oikya Parishad coordinator Wajed-ul Islam Khan observed that ‘use of force’ to suppress labour issues ‘is detrimental’ to the rights and interests of workers and owners of a company as well.
‘It is a very risky tradeoff for industries.’
Most of the privately-owned companies do not ‘allow’ formation of trade union in their factories now although trade union, according to the law, is allowed in every factory except Export Processing Zones.
There ‘is a loophole’ in the law, for which, the workers could not become organised and set up new labour organisations,’ Khan said.
The workers require to submit a committee (list of office bearers) to the government’s labour office for registration of an organisation and the lists are, somehow, passed on to the owners or management of the factories.
The factory management subsequently terminates leading workers which leads to labour unrest in factories and deterioration of relations between workers and management affecting production, the SKOP leader said.
With whom the management of a factory having several thousand workers would hold negotiations ‘if there are no genuine representatives of the workers,’ asked Khan, who is also general secretary of Bangladesh Trade Union Centre.
There are no registered labour organisations in most of the newly established factories, he said, as many workers now do not want to become member of such organisations fearing it might cost him his job.
A good number of workers, however, tend to maintain links to partisan labour organisations, Khan said.
Owners should encourage trade unions to maintain a peaceful productive environment at factories and resolve disputes through a participatory committee with representatives from both sides, he said.
It is the responsibility of the government and owners to ensure operation of a registered trade union in a factory under ILO convention 87 and 98 on trade union rights.
Asked about presence of partisan labour organisations and trade unions, the SKOP coordinator said partisan labour organisations ‘are barriers to unity of workers’.
Almost all major political parties have ‘pocket wings’ to protect ‘partisan and personal interests’ instead of the interests of workers and industries.
But there ‘is no division’, Khan said, among the owners represented by chambers of commerce and industries, including their apex body, the FBCCI.
‘The owners, who belong to Awami League, BNP, Jatiya Party and even Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, have successfully kept business interests above politics to realise benefits from the government and deprive workers.’
About two million people join the labour market every year.
About 80 per cent of Bangladesh labour force is engaged in the informal sector, according to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
Most of them are poor, unskilled and women. They do not have fixed wage and work hours. They do not have job security, trade union rights, maternity leave and other benefits.
In the capital, 60 per cent of the labour force is engaged in the informal sector.
State minister for labour and employment Begum Monnujan Sufian disputed the view that there had been a ‘paradigm shift’ in resolving labour disputes.
Most of the labour disputes ‘are settled through discussions’ between the management and representatives of workers, she insisted.
In some cases, she said, the government needed to involve the ministry and local administrations to contain violence in industries where there were no labour organisations.
About the present state of trade union movement, Sufian, who was president of a trade union for 36 years, observed, that there was dearth of quality leadership right now in trade unions.
Most of the present leaders of labour organisations do not have capacity, understanding of relevant laws and rules and temperament to tackle a labour dispute through discussion with owners, she said.
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