IMPROVEMENT in the chaotic city road regime appears to be hinging on two issues — the introduction of a bus franchise and the appointment of transport workers on a salaried structure. The introduction of a bus route franchise was first planned in 1997 under the Dhaka Urban Transport Project. About two decades and a half have, however, passed since efforts were initiated and with the latest round of delay in its implementation on a pilot basis, the future of the whole project has become uncertain again. The salaried appointment of all public transport workers, meanwhile, has been in the talks for a while now with no visible progress yet. The 2018 road safety movement brought expectations that the government would work to change the situation, but the sector continues to employ workers on a contractual basis in the absence of a mechanism to enforce a salaried structure for workers. In the contractual system, more trips mean more money for both transport owners and workers, making workers engage in unhealthy competitions on the road at the expense of public safety. Salaried appointments of workers could improve the situation by largely eliminating the race for more profit.
The Road Transport Act 2018 stipulates that no individual or organisation can appoint workers without the issuance of appointment letters. Bangladesh Road Transport Authority officials seek to say that transport owners refuse to pay their workers monthly salary despite their repeatedly asking the owners to do so. This points to the failure of the regulatory body to ensure a strict compliance with the rules and regulations by transport owners and it suggests that the road transport authorities are not empowered enough. In such a situation, transport owners and workers are reported to have blamed each other for the stalemate regarding the salaried appointment of workers. Officials of the Bangladesh Road Transport Owners’ Association claim that they offer appointment letters to workers but workers apparently do not want them and cite the involvement of workers in transport business to make more money as a reason for their reluctance. The proposition appears to be untenable and an excuse on part of transport owners to shirk their responsibility of ensuring worker rights. Road Transport Workers’ Federation officials, however, say that workers would prefer a structured system of salary and allege that the owners refuse to pay monthly salary because the contractual system of the payment of workers brings in more money. The absence of appointment letters also makes transport workers vulnerable to exploitation and prevents them from seeking any legal redress when warranted.
The government must, therefore, address the issue of the salaried appointment of transport workers to immediately end competition on the road. The government and its agencies concerned must also expedite the rationalisation of bus routes and the introduction of a service franchise to this end. In view of the failures of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, the government should also consider an overhaul of the regulatory body.
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