Since 1890, May 1 has been popularly observed all-inclusively as the “May Day”. Who does not know the historic milieu of observing such a day worldwide? On May 1, 1886, the police opened fire on a protest in the city of Chicago near Hay Market of the United States (US) and killed 10 workers who were involved in demanding for an 8-hour working day instead 12 hours. In recognition of the sacrifices of such workers, an international workers' rally, held in Paris on 14 July 1889, declared May 1 as the “International Workers Solidarity Day”.
As a protraction of this, many labour movements have taken place during 19th and 20th centuries for enlisting the rights of the workers and ensuring the same by enacting and implementing national and international laws. Eventually, appreciation of the labour rights acquired both the social and economic importance since the industrial revolution. In Bangladesh, so far so upright there are 25 laws dealing with the labours and industrial issues. Among all, the Bangladesh Labour Code 2006 (hereinafter referred as the Code) is the most recent and remarkable one. This Code is the body of rules and regulations to address the legal rights of, and restrictions on, the working people and their organisations. In a word, the main objectives of this law are to improve the conditions of the industrial labours by providing their deserving facilities of life, as well as to accelerate the production activity by bringing industrial peace in the country.
Initially, the draft of the Code was appraised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and other Employers and Workers Associations along with the human rights organisations to meet the international standard of the protection of the workers’ rights and obligations. This write-up focuses on the vital features of the Code which reflect the overall standards of the protection of the workers’ rights and obligations in Bangladesh.
The Code extends its scope by broadening its applicability towards the relevant sectors of the workers and the institutes. It tried to avoid ambiguity of different terms by giving appropriate definitions. Primarily, this law emphasized on the maintenance of safe working environment in the establishments. Training arrangements have been made compulsory for the labourers. Besides, it depicts that the workers participating in the training programme shall be deemed to be in his or her official duty during continuance of such training.
Pointedly, the issuance of an appointment letter and the Identity card for a worker has been made obligatory. Together with, both the maintenance and preservation of the safety record books and introduction of group insurances are required under this law. Besides, it requires issuing a fitness certificate from any registered physician at the expense of the employers.
In relation to the children, it states that any person below the age of 14 shall be treated as a child. Defining an adolescent, it prohibits “child labour” even in non-hazardous regular work in an organisation. Again, appointment of teenage and female workers is prohibited during the nights and in dangerous works.
As far as the female workers are concerned, maternity benefits have been confirmed for 16 weeks and the qualifying service length has been agreed for 6 months. However, this benefit has been limited only up to the birth of two living infants. Further, this law ensures to provide a children room for every 40 female workers having their children below the age of 6 years.
The leave of the employees has been categorised as sick leave, annual leave with wages, and festival leave. Under the purview of the Code, 14 days sick leave with full average wages has been given. In respect to annual leave with wages, 1 day of leave for every 18 days of work performed by an adult worker during the previous period of 12 months needs to be provided. Surprisingly, even though this law expressly prohibits child labour, it ensures 1 day for every 15 days of work performed by an adolescent during the previous period of 12 months. Finally, it has been stipulated that every worker shall be entitled to 11 days festival leaves in a calendar year.
This Code limits the period of time to make payment of wages to the employees. What’s more, the competent Court has been given jurisdiction to determine the matter of realising the unpaid wages of the workers. It has entailed the provisions for the declaration of sector wise minimum wage rates after an interval of every 5 years. Irrespective of the workers’ designation and wage scale, they are also entitled to get the participation fund and the welfare fund developed out of the profit of the company.
It should be mentioned that this law specifies the amount of compensation in cases of death or injury caused by any accident at the concerned workplace. For illustration, the amount of compensation has been determined at Tk. 100000 per work for deaths while the amount is Tk. 125000 per work for a permanent complete disability. However, this amount of the compensation has been made double for causing any accident due to the employer’s negligence. It must be noted that the death benefits should be safeguarded to the workers not only in the cases of normal deaths but also in the cases of any deaths occurred other than accidents. In this regard, the law imposes a condition that such incidents must happen during the continuance of the service of the concerned employer.
Significantly, the involuntary retirement age has been fixed at 57 to enjoy the retirement benefits. Following this, it has been made precise that in case of voluntary retirement, a worker can also enjoy such benefit but he or she has to complete 25 years of service in any organisation.
According to the Code, a permanent employee may terminate his or her employment by serving a notice of 30 days to the employer. On the other hand, a temporary employee may terminate his or her employment serving a notice of 30 and 14 days depending on the situation of a particular case. Again, he or she can even terminate the same returning the wages for that period.
For the purpose of regulating the relationships between the workers and employers or workers and workers or employers and employers, they have the right to form trade union. Through its leadership, the trade union bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates with employers as regards the wages; rules governing hiring, firing, and promotion of workers; complaint procedures; justifiable benefits; workplace safety; various policies etc.
As forums of bringing legal actions under the said Code, “Labour Courts” shall be the only Courts to adjudicate the relevant issues. Moreover, the appeals shall lie to the “Labour Appellate Tribunal”. This Code fixes the time limitation for the adjudication of every stage of the litigations brought before the labor Court to speed up the processes of the trials.
Now, the issue of concern is that mostly the poor and the illiterate workers are not aware of their rights. As such they sometimes cannot exercise their free-will in negotiating with the employers for their employments. On the other hand, the Government and the judicial system of Bangladesh are being critically appraised and blamed with the allegation that they emphasise on the policy of the non-interference and freedom of contract only.
However, after visiting the contemporary labour law, it is surely perceived that this legislation is a progressive instrument for achieving socio-economic growth of Bangladesh. As a matter of fact, the present government evidently paid much attention to the improvement of the conditions of the labours to accelerate the socio-economic development and growth of the industry.
Henceforth, this write-up has simply endeavoured to bring a plea into spotlight to make the workers aware of their own rights including the benefits and privileges provided to them under the Bangladesh Labour Code 2006. Remember that ‘labour means hard-work but not at the cost of being deprived of your rights’. Happy May Day!
The writer is a Faculty Member of the Department of Law, East West
University (EWU), Bangladesh, and a Research Associate, Center for Research and Training, EWU