The labourers giving coats of whitewash to the top floor of a high-rise building has long become a common sight in the capital. What adds to the appalling nature of the job is they work in a precarious situation, with no safety gear at all. The same frightening spectacle is found in many other works. They range from electrical to repair jobs being done in almost similar conditions. Generally defined as the informal labour sector or informal economy, the sector continues to attract people despite the absence of legal protection measures supposed to cover these seemingly vulnerable workers. This legal lacuna extends an opportunity to myriad employers to hire workers for whatever jobs they like at wages fixed at their sweet will. One would like to single out here the porters out of trade unions, the sectors of marine fisheries, domestic employment, small factories etc. Besides the traditionally unprotected jobs, hitherto unheard-of areas of work are also being added to the list.
The hazardous nature of these works prompts labour rights activists to feel distressed, which is natural. The mindless exploitation of the hapless workers continues thanks to the capital's unwieldy growth and wholesale skirting of workers' safety measures. The unabated rise in migrant workers from villages and the dearth of jobs also aggravate the situation. Notwithstanding the concern expressed by numerous labour rights groups, there are little signs of abatement in the manipulation of the miserable workers. Evidently, it clearly portends worse times in the future vis-à-vis the informal labour market in the country. Ranging from the glaring absence of terms and conditions agreed upon during formal recruitment processes, whimsical wage structure, absence of compensations in cases of accidents and deaths to job uncertainties, a raft of spectres keep haunting the informally picked workers. It is indeed incredible that the successive governments have yet to feel the compulsion of framing necessary legislations aimed at ensuring a stable work career for these workers. Labour union is almost a taboo phrase in this sector. It is really ironical that the woeful condition of the informal labour continues to be kept in focus only by the non-government organisations (NGOs). The employers and the government agencies do not appear to have any compunction about these apparently luckless people. What's worse, these voiceless toiling people seem to have the least idea that they, too, have the right to assemble and place legitimate demands.
To speak caustically, these hapless labourers have been left in the lurch by both the governments and society at large. The country is trailing many developing countries in terms of industrialisation. The economy is largely agro-based, with farm hands and a large informal labour force at the helm of the nation's economic progress. That a large area of the nation's economy is operated by informal labour is a stark reality for Bangladesh. Their role in gross domestic product (GDP) growth and the running of the national economy has long been an established fact. Unfortunately, all the sectors comprising informal economy remain beyond national focus.
Surveys show the informal economy comprises a staggering 87 per cent of the total workforce in Bangladesh. That this critical fact keeps eluding the policy makers year in and year out is perplexing. Keeping this neglected labour sector confined to informal economy can only impair growth. This warrants a tolerably fair deal meant for the exploited workers. It is where the nation fails like many other South Asian countries. Bangladesh can, surely, effect a change by providing legal protection to these workers.
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