Yet more discrimination against workers

THE apparent misuse by the government of Section 324 of the Bangladesh Labour Law 2006, which enables it to give exemptions in ‘public and national interest’ to an owner or worker from abiding by certain sections other than that related to child labour or maternity leave, is indeed unfortunate. According to a New Age report on Saturday, using the provision, the government has already given exemptions to six multinational companies, all export-oriented garment factories, all sugar mills, two foreign quick rental power companies and a local company from different sections involving labour compliance. As a result, workers there now either have to work beyond the stipulated 10 hours a day or do not get fixed lunch break or even get deprived of weekly holidays. Moreover, the owners are able to avoid obligations to follow local and international laws and social compliance audit, something that might have allowed them to exploit the workers at their will. What is more intriguing is that the companies granted the exemptions include even British American Tobacco Company that has already given rise to controversies for workers concerned are generally exposed to various health hazards on the one hand and it continues to play role in polluting environment on the other, despite the labour secretary seeking to say that the company was given the uncalled for opportunity ‘by mistake’.
There are indeed reasons to allow companies like the ones that produce life-saving oxygen or enormously contribute to the country’s annual export earnings to continue their operation round the clock. But all this should not be done at the cost of workers’ rights. Some people can argue that workers concerned are paid for the extra labour, which may help ease the struggle to make their ends meet. Besides, the labour secretary may have correctly provided the information that the government approval of the waivers follows the recommendations made by inspectors of the department of inspection for factories and establishments, which are also based on the consent of workers concerned over the issue. But they should know that allegations have been there for long that the factory inspection department is mired in rampant corruption and irregularities. More importantly, worker rights such as limited work hour, fixed lunch break came as a result of workers’ movement in different parts of the world, particularly Europe and the United State of America, over a number of centuries, in which scores of workers had had to sacrifice their lives. That apart, excessive work pressure usually adversely impacts the productivity of workers, not to mention the latter’s longevity. As such, it is the industry as well as the nation that suffers because of all this at the end of the day.
The government immediately needs to review the impact of the labour law provisions in question on workers concerned and take, accordingly, effective steps. Delay in this regard may prompt the workers to engage in actions detrimental to good industrial relations.

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