May Day and worker woes

BANGLADESH joins many other countries across the globe in celebrating May Day with fanfare today. The celebrations are to commemorate the workers who embraced martyrdom at the Haymarket Square of Chicago in the United States of America on May 4, 1886 during their movement for eight-hour workdays. Relevant government authorities are set to hold programmes such as seminars and symposia on the day, while various organisations, political, cultural and labour, have planned to organise colourful rallies and processions. It is expected that, apart from the significance of the day, issues like labour rights, workplace safety will take centre stage at all these programmes. It is important definitely important to take stock of the conditions of workers’ lives and rights on the occasion.
Incidentally, the workers, who sacrificed their lives at Haymarket Square, belonged to the apparel sector. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the condition of workers at many of the country’s apparel factories that constitute the largest industrial sector is hardly different from that of the former. The existing labour law stipulates 10-hour workday for a worker going against the spirit of May Day. Besides, there are ample cases in which employers forced their workers to work even up to 16-17 hours, that too, in many cases, paying little for the extra work. Worse still, in the absence of effective trade unions mainly attributable to the flawed labour law, workers have no option but to accept the situation. One can in this connection refer to the current conditions of the families of the victims of the Rana Plaza collapse on April 24, 2013, which claimed more than 1100 workers’ lives and left many others injured, and its survivors. While all of them are yet to receive the promised compensation money in full, around 55 per cent of the survivors are waiting for the government and the apparel owners’ association to fulfil their promise of proper rehabilitation. It is important to note that the informal sector that includes thousands of small entities like brick kilns, rice mills, automobile repair shops, etc involving more than 95 per cent workers of the country is still out of the labour law coverage, while there are very few people to work for the workers.
In fact, imbued with the real spirit of May Day, unless and until workers at large organise themselves for an end to the existing socio-economic system biased towards owners in particular, there is hardly any hope for any change in the situation. Also, conscious sections need to express strong solidarity with them.

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