Needed: Viable trade unionism

Mir Mahmudul Haque Chowdhury | Published: April 30, 2019 21:55:53 | Updated: May 09, 2019 20:47:02

Across the world, May 01 is observed as 'International Workers day'. It has different names in different countries. In USA, it is widely known as Labour Day. In other countries, it is known as Workers' day.

Regardless of what it is called, the day is observed to commemorate the Haymarket tragedy in Chicago, USA on May 04, 1886. The incident led to the introduction of eight-hour work-day across the world.

Bangladesh celebrates the day as well. But many workers in Bangladesh are deprived of their rights at their workplaces. Bangladesh's export sector is dominated by readymade garment (RMG) products. Bangladesh is among some of the top countries exporting RMG products to the developed countries of the world. The low cost of production is mostly due to the low wages of workers. 

Around 3.50 million workers are working in nearly 4,000 RMG factories of the sector. The lowest wage for a worker in this sector was fixed at Tk 8000 in 2019, with effect from December 2018 by the government. Prior to this, the lowest wage for garment workers was Tk 5300 since 2013. As the wages are low, most workers have to do overtime work to sustain their families. These workers do not get two-day weekends and do not get to enjoy all the public holidays.

Nearly 60 per cent of the workers in the RMG sector are females. It has been alleged that some garments factories do not want to give maternity leaves to female workers. In a bid to lower costs, some factories have unsafe working environment. Female workers have also been complaining time and again about sexual harassment by male workers.

The state of white collar employees of private organisations is slightly better. However, some private organisations do not observe eight-hour work day. There is a popular joke in some private organisations that there is a fixed time for the employees get 'in', but no fixed time to move 'out'. This means that the daily working hours of employees almost always go beyond eight hours in these organisations. Some private organisations do not even pay overtime to their employees for working beyond the eight-hour work day. Even there are reports that some firms make their employees work all seven days of the week. Benefits like provident fund, gratuity and other perks are also absent in many private organisations.

This situation has been prevalent as trade unions are very weak or non-existent in most of the sectors in Bangladesh.

Improvement of working conditions, work hours, wages and other benefits of the workers are parameters necessary for economic transformation of the country. On every May Day, a large number of colourful rallies, discussion sessions and cultural functions are organised in the country. Various stakeholders give a lot of hope to the nation, all of which are forgotten the day after.


Mir Mahmudul Haque Chowdhury is a banker & researcher


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