So much for incumbents’ claims about worker welfare

That the Bangladesh Workers’ Welfare Foundation, which came into being in 2006 with an aim to help destitute workers and dependants of dead or injured workers in formal and informal sectors, still limps mainly for the lack of the required government initiative, indeed, provides yet another pointer to the general apathy ruling quarters towards workers. While the government is yet to contribute any funds to the foundation, according to a report that New Age published on Saturday, it has so far failed to work out any organogram for the entity, something needed to hire manpower for the collection of funds from public and private companies. Moreover, inspectors of the department of inspection for factories and establishments, who, according to a labour ministry joint secretary who is also the ex officio director general of the foundation, had been assigned to collect the contributions remained busy with ‘day-to-day work’. In such a situation, only 41 companies, mostly multinational, contributed Tk 75 crore to the fund till March 2015 although the half-yearly review of the Dhaka Stock Exchange showed that 233 companies made profits in 2014. Surprisingly still, the government did not set its share of the contribution to the fund till date while the labour ministry has so far sought no budgetary allocation for the fund. The government even has taken no initiative to clear bankers’ confusion if the law governing the foundation is applicable to them.
Despite a few recent steps to make employers comply with the existing labour law and rules, there are still a huge number of enterprises, especially in the private sector, where families of the dead and injured workers in any accident have to move from door to door for help but, in many cases, to no avail. More importantly, while workers belonging to the formal sector can at least take up the issue with labour courts, their peers in the informal sector, who happened to account for the vast majority of workers, have no such options as they are outside the purview of the labour law. Overall, the foundation, if put in place to the letter and in spirit, could have, indeed, provided hopes for workers in general and those in the informal sector in particular. According to the existing labour law, all establishments having Tk 1 crore in paid-up capital or Tk 2 crore in fixed assets should contribute 0.5 per cent of the net profit to the fund. On the other hand, there are a total of 23,579 business entities registered with the department of factories and establishments. If the foundation was allowed to work in full swing, it would have huge funds every year.
While the government immediately needs to walk the talk in organising the welfare fund for workers, worker rights bodies in particular need to come out of their apparent slumber in this regard.

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