Mindspeak

A tale of white-collar workers’ rights in Bangladesh

Nafiul Alam Shupto | Published: 00:00, Jun 16,2019

 
 
mindspeak

Under the Bangladeshi legal structure there is no specific legislation which governs the employment of white-collar workers. None of the labor laws apply to them and their service conditions are governed by the respective employment contracts. As a result of those loopholes of law the masters of the private corporations are putting pressure on a large number of non-manual workers. It is often observed that most of such workers of private corporations do perform more than the time limit and get significantly fewer amounts of wages or other benefits, writes Nafiul Alam Shupto

DUE to rapid changes in the industrial and occupational structure in Bangladesh, the increase of white-collar occupation is highly observed in the recent decades especially in urban areas. Whether in public or private sector the number is rising day by day.

On the one hand, employees working in professional, managerial or administrative positions, to be more specific who do not earn their livelihood through manual labour, in an organisation are commonly recognised as white-collar employees. On the other hand, people who are engaged in manual labor or work with tools and hands are known as blue collar employees or just workers.

The definition of ‘worker’ which is stated in the section 2 (65) of Bangladesh Labor Act 2006 does not include the white-collared segment of the worker. Thus a large number of workers are kept out of the scope of the labor law of Bangladesh who are open to any kinds of exploitations from their employers.

The employment and labor issues in our country are mainly dealt with two separate streams of laws and regulations. For service matters of the public sector employment the referred laws include the Public Servants (Dismissal on Conviction) Ordinance, 1985, Government Servants (Discipline and Appeal) Rules 2018 et cetera (the new rules have repealed the earlier one of 1985).

For private sectors the applicable law is the Bangladesh Labor Act, 2006 (Act No. XLII of 2006) which was amended in 2013 (Labor Act thereafter).

According to the definition provided in the act, following are the major criteria for an individual to fall under the definition of a worker: (I) any person including an apprentice, (II) conditions of employment which can be expressed or implied, (III) employment to an establishment or to an industry directly or through a contractor, (IV) employed for wage or for money for providing any skilled, unskilled, physical, technical, trade promotional or clerical service.

However, those who are mainly responsible for administrative, supervisory or managerial capacity are not to be considered as a worker. Now the question is that people who do not fall under the definition, how will the authority allocate their rights if it is curtailed?

There is no legal framework for the individuals who are working in private corporations as administrative, supervisory or managerial capacity. If an individual works as a manager of an organisation, does that indicate that his rights as an employee are ensured?

If any provisions of the service rules go beyond his choice there will be no other option left than quitting the job. Therefore the corporations are getting the freedom in administrating service rules by their own.

Lack of specific guidelines from the government`s side is curtailing the rights of non-manual workers of private sectors. Section 3(1) provides that an establishment may have its own service rules as to the appointment of its workers, but such rules shall not be less favorable than the provisions made in the act.

The question is if they are not counted amongst the scope of the act how will the workers be benefitted from the provision? The win situation is still into the side of the corporations. Since a remarkable number of unemployed skilled individuals are available in the job market the employers are less likely to anticipate the scenario.

It is a well-known fact that the service rules policies of multinational corporations are well structured and the employee’s rights are highly practiced. But what about the local companies? Are they up to the mark?

In reality if a person works as a manager of a company does it illustrate that he or she is an independent worker or in other words, is there no upper authority?  In the case of Dosta Text, Mills vs. Sudhansu Bikash Nath (1988) 40 DLR (AD) 45 the Court came into the conclusion that mere designation is not sufficient to indicate whether a person is a worker or an employer, but it is the nature of work showing the extent of authority which determines whether he/she is a worker or an employer. Therefore the white-collar workers cannot be kept out of the scope of labor law.

It is discriminatory that the employees of multi-national corporations are gaining more due to their well-structured service rules while the white-collar workers of local corporations and private sector are getting less. It is also discriminatory towards private sector white-collar employees that employments of the government’s servants are regulated by Government Servants Rules 2018.

Hence the government service holders at least have a framework to raise their voices if any action of the authority goes beyond the rules. Such legal backbone is clearly absent for the white-collar worker in the private sector.

An inequality is clearly observed in the above mentioned context. Article 19(1) of the constitution of Bangladesh says ‘The State shall endeavor to ensure equality of opportunity to all citizens’. Absence of legal framework in the private sector has placed the white-collar workers on the back row of facilities that well structured jobs often offer. Consequently their opportunity to exercise their rights as workers is hampered.

If the employment of the non-manual workers of the government sector is regulated by the service rules, enacted by the government, such rules shall be executed parallel throughout the private sector as well. Otherwise the practice shall become ultra vires to the highest law of the land.

Section 19(2) of the constitution further says ‘The state shall adopt effective measures to remove social and economic inequality between individuals to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth among citizens, and of opportunities in order to attain a uniform level of economic development throughout the Republic’.

As a result of those loopholes of law the masters of the private corporations are putting pressure on a large number of non-manual workers. It is often observed that most of such workers of private corporations do perform more than the time limit and get significantly fewer amounts of wages or other benefits. They all have become mannequins due to the lack of legal interpretation.

So it can be said that under the Bangladeshi legal regime there is no specific legislation which governs the employment of white-collar workers. Finally yet importantly, none of the labor laws apply to them and their service conditions are governed by the respective employment contracts which contain all terms and conditions governing the employment.

In the absence of any specific statue or principles governing employment of white-collar workers, except the basic provisions applicable under the Contract Act, 1872 and judicial precedents a remarkable number of non-manual workers’ rights are retrenched and a huge ambiguity in the law has taken place.

To end the monopoly of employer’s authority over the white-collar employees, the government badly needs to consider the fact and implement general service rules for all the non-manual workers in private corporations in Bangladesh.

Nafiul Alam Shupto is a student of North South University.

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