MAY DAY

Workers’ welfare foundation limps without fund

Ershad Kamol
A metal worker is busy at a workshop in Dhaka without safety gears on Thursday as May Day is going to be observed today all over the world. — Ali Hossain Mintu

A metal worker is busy at a workshop in Dhaka without safety gears on Thursday as May Day is going to be observed today all over the world. — Ali Hossain Mintu

The government has taken virtually no initiative to institutionalise Bangladesh Workers’ Welfare Foundation into an entity, by providing manpower or enhancing its fund.
Since the formation of the foundation in 2006, the government has made no contribution to the fund and has not designed an organogram to hire manpower to collect contributions from public companies and the private sector.
A joint secretary of the labour ministry functions as ex officio director general of the foundation who
depends on inspectors of the department of inspection for factories and establishments to collect contribution from 23,579 business entities registered with the department.
The inspectors admitted they do not pay attention to collecting for the fund, as they were busy with day-to-day work.
The foundation was formed through enactment of Bangladesh Workers Welfare Foundation Act 2006, with the aim to help destitute workers, dependents of dead or injured workers in the formal and informal sectors.
Section 14 (1) of Bangladesh Workers Welfare Foundation Act stipulates that the fund will be created from the government’s contribution, owners’ contribution, borrowing interest free loan, donation and others.
The government’s contribution to the fund has not been set through the law and the labour ministry hasn’t as yet sought budget from the finance ministry for the fund, said M Faizur Rahman, ex officio director general of the fund.
According to Bangladesh Workers Welfare Foundation Act, owners of enterprises where the Workers Participation Act 1968 is applicable are required to deposit 50 percent from the factories’ workers welfare fund to the Bangladesh Workers’ Welfare Foundation fund.
While amending Bangladesh Labour Act (2006) in 2013, the government fixed the share for workers’ foundation fund for all establishments having taka one crore in paid-up capital or Tk two crore in fixed assets, at 0.5 per cent of the net profit.
The amended act, however, exempted all export-oriented apparel factories from this condition and stipulated the formation of a separate fund with their contribution, said labour secretary Mikhail Shipar.
‘We will create a separate fund for export oriented apparel factories after enacting Bangladesh Labour Rules,’ the labour secretary said.
Ministry officials said that no government or private bank and profit-making public companies such as Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation has made any contribution to the fund.
Till March 2015, only 41 companies, mostly multinational enterprises, has contributed Tk 75 crore to the fund. But, the half-yearly review of the Dhaka Stock exchange shows that 233 companies made profits in 2014.
High officials of public companies and government-run banks said that the foundation never approached them for such contribution.
Bankers said they did not contribute since the law was not clear to them. Association of Bankers Bangladesh president Ali Reza Iftekhar said that banks do not recruit anybody as labours. ‘We sought clarification from Bangladesh Bank whether the law is applicable to banks,’ he said.
When asked, Bangladesh Bank’s executive director M Mahfuzur Rahman told New Age that no additional instruction is required in execution of a law of the state.
Owners of companies said they did not find any logic of contributing the workers’ share to the government fund.
‘All employers want to share profits with their workers but not in contributing to government funds,’ said Farooq Ahmed, secretary general of Bangladesh Employers’ Federation.
But labour leaders and watchdogs refuted such arguments saying that workers of factories had no problems to contribute their share to the government fund.
‘Five per cent share of the profit is the right of the workers, not owners,’ said Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmmed, assistant executive director of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies
The owners have no choice if the workers do not protest the contribution to the government fund, Sultan said. ‘I never heard any workers having any objection.’
Trade union centre’s general secretary Wajedul Islam Khan, said, ‘the government must contribute to the fund and take steps to equip the foundation to become a full-fledged department.’
In a press briefing held at labour ministry on Wednesday, the state minister for labour Mujibul Haque urged all corporate companies to donate five per cent of their declared profit share to the fund.
Earlier on April 10 the state minister told New Age, ‘we will give notices for the third time to all establishments to contribute in the fund.’
‘From the interest of the deposit of the fund, we have supported the victims of Tazreen Fashion Ltd and also created group insurance policy for the workers engaged in the informal sector,’ Mujibul Haque said.
An organogram for the foundation has also been finalised, the minister claimed.

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