Economists laud scrapping of old agriculture ordn

Anisul Islam Noor

29 October, 2020 12:00 AM printer

Economists and experts in agricultural sector have welcomed the scrapping of the Agriculture Ordinance 1984 for institutionalisation of minimum wages and other rights for some 7.3 million workers engaged in farming.

The new move by the government is likely to ensure fair wages for the labour under a formal wage structure.

The government has scrapped the Agricultural Labour (Minimum Wages) Ordinance 1984 to facilitate the labour right under the Labour Act 2006.

Welcoming the government initiative, economists and sector analysts said it would be the first step towards the wage formalisation of the largest workforce that had been almost neglected for decades in the country.

Talking to the daily sun, Dr AMB Mirza azizul Islam, former adviser to the caretaker government, cautiously welcomed the initiative.

He said if the labour wage goes up desperately, people may suffer losses in crop cultivation in vast areas.

“Both the market prices of agricultural products and labour wages have to be fixed, making a balance between the two major things, otherwise, one party would gain while other will face loss,” he said.

Centre for Policy Dialogue Research Director Khondaker Golam Moazzem said the scrapping of ordinance would facilitate the implementation of minimum wages and other rights of the labour engaged in farming under the labour law.

The decision will clear the way for formation of the minimum wage board for the sector and recognising it as a formal sector, he hoped.

It is the first step towards institutionalisation of the sector although it may take a long time to get it materialised, he said.

Fixing the minimum wage for the sector will also pave the way for agricultural workers to claim other rights recognised for other workers in formal sectors, he added.

Individuals and agro-based firms employing agricultural workers will also benefit from the move as it will keep the wages at a stable situation.

The minimum wage for the sector should be determined considering the productivity and availability of workers, types of products, prices and profits and the living cost of workers, he suggested.       

General Secretary to Bangladesh Krishak Samity (BKS) Sazzad Jahir said it is a positive move and the agricultural labour should get the minimum wage under the labour law.

The law, justice and parliamentary affairs ministry on October 13 scrapped the ordinance following recommendations made by the labour and employment ministry.

The ministry also took opinions from the agriculture and industries ministries before abolishing the ordinance.

The ministry had been facing difficulties and confusion in addressing the issues including setting the minimum wages for agricultural labour in presence of different regulations in the ordinance and labour law, an official of the labour ministry said.

According to the now defunct ordinance, the minimum wages for agricultural labour per day must be equal to the cost of a 3.27-kilogramme rice.

There was a provision of formation of a Council of Minimum Wages and Prices for Agricultural Labour in the ordinance.

Sazzad Jahir said the government, however, would now be able to settle the minimum wages and other issues of agricultural workers as per the labour law.

The ministry will now explore the ways through consultation with the Department of Labour and other stakeholders to form a minimum wage board for the sector, he said.

According to the labour law, an agricultural worker means a person who is employed in farming on the basis of daily, monthly or yearly contract or on a contract of doing any specific work.

Experts said there were huge fluctuations in agricultural labourers’ daily wage due to lack of any legal framework.

They said the minimum wages would easily be implemented for attached workers hired by firms and individuals on a seasonal or annual contract.

According to the Agriculture and Rural Statistics 2018, published in May 2019, a total of 2.44 crore people, 51.88 percent of the total employment, were employed in agriculture. Of which, 72.92 lakh or 29.89 percent were agricultural labour and the average wage of an agricultural labour was Tk386 a day. For male, the average wage was Tk388 and for female it was Tk246.

The average wage rate was as low as Tk347 and Tk357 for agricultural workers in Rajshahi and Rangpur divisions respectively.

In practice, the daily wage hovered around Tk300-Tk400 during slack period and it soared to as high as Tk600 during harvesting time.