The labour rights activists and trade union leaders suggested undertaking an intensified public information campaign and setting up a separate a publicity wing to make the government-sponsored cell effective.
The trade union leaders also bemoan the fact that efficient and senior lawyers do not feel encouraged conducting legal aid cases of the workers due to the paltry fees fixed for them.
The officials of the newly launched cell, however, said that they took up some plans to take the services of the cell to the workers’ doorsteps.
Legal aid is the assistance provided to the people otherwise unable to afford legal representation or access to the court.
The cell, launched on July 21 of this year, aims to ensure free legal aid services to thousands of workers working in ready made garment, ship breaking, ship building, steel manufacturing industries in Chittagong, the commercial capital of Bangladesh.
At present, a law officer and an office assistant are providing services to the workers at the cell housed at Chittagong Labour Court.
Welcoming the move of setting up a legal aid cell in Chittagong, Tapan Dutta, president of Bangladesh Trade Union Centre (TUC), Chittagong said the cell would help workers of limited income group for taking step to protect their service and seek legal assistance.
“Vigorous publicity campaign is required to make the cell functional. Workers hailing from all districts under Chittagong and Sylhet divisions will receive services from the cell. But it will be really difficult for a worker to come all the way from Sylhet to Chittagong to seek legal aid. Therefore, the workers coming from a long distance should be given some travel allowance,” said the trade union leader.
“The fees fixed for a lawyer should also be raised so that they do not fell reluctant to move a legal aid case in favour of a worker,” suggested Dutta who is also a member of 1st Labour Court, Chittagong.
Echoing with the suggestion of the trade union leader, Rajib Dey, a panel lawyer of the legal aid cell said intensified campaign should be conducted in the industrial zones of Chittagong like CEPZ, Sagarika, Pahartali, Bayezid and Kalurghat.
Talking to the Dhaka Tribune, Abul Hasnat, law officer of Workers’ Legal Aid Cell said that they had already taken some plans to let the workers know about the services provided by the cell.
“We have already submitted an action plan to the higher authorities to disseminate information about the cell. We are planning to distribute pamphlets and leaflets among the workers advertising the legal aid services,” said the legal officer.
“Besides, we have a plan to put up billboards in areas with high concentration of industrial workers displaying the services offered by the cell,” said the law officer, adding that they would arrange training programmes for trade union leaders.
The cell is supervised by National Legal Aid Services Organisation (NLASO) with the technical assistance from UNDP under its Justice Sector Facility project.
The cell provides legal advice, assist to conduct mediation to settle disputes, assist to draft grievance petition, engage legal aid panel lawyers and represent cases.
A worker can seek legal aids over compensation for workplace injuries, illegal layoff, dismissal and discharge, minimum wage, non-payment of wage and other benefits, payment for overtime, holidays, maternity leave, provident fund and other rights guaranteed by Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006.
As many as 22 workers have so far applied seeking legal assistance from the cell.