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Workers demand workplace safety, fair pay on May Day

  • Published at 07:40 pm May 1st, 2019
May Day
Workers from both formal and informal sectors participate in a May Day parade in Dhaka on May 1, 2019 Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

They made the urge while participating in a number of rallies held in Dhaka

Workers from different sectors have urged the government and their employers to provide job security, workplace safety, fair pay, eight-hour work days, and social and legal protection as part of their May Day demands.

They made the urge while participating in a number of rallies held in Dhaka on Wednesday.

The workers—from both the formal and informal sectors—led by trade union leaders also brought out processions in parts of the capital, including the streets surrounding the National Press Club.  

Many pro-labour organizations, expressing solidarity with the long-impending demands, also took part in the rallies and joined the May Day parades. 

Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, Dulal Sardar, president of  the Public College and  Private Employees’ Union, said they were facing difficulties feeding their families with the limited pay that they received from employers. 

“We are paid only Tk5,000 a month. How can we support our families with this meagre sum?” he questioned, demanding an immediate pay hike.

Citing the same issue, leaders and members of the Bangladesh Mafassal Sangbadik Forum (BMSF) also demanded an immediate pay raise.

BMSF President Shahidul Islam Pilot said the government must enlist the journalists working in the neighbourhoods of each city, and provide them with an identification number. 

“The enlisted journalists must be given government allowances,” he said.

Dhaka Electricians’ Union (DEU) announced a seven-point list of demands, including workplace safety, and entitlement to insurance. 

DEU President Ruhul Amin Hawlader said: “Despite our job being extremely risky, we are not entitled to any kind of risk allowance, let alone compensation in case of casualties.”  

Amirul Haq Amin, president of the Bangladesh Garment Workers’ Federation, urged factory owners to implement the minimum wage set by the government.    

He also listed 12 other demands including the elimination of gender discrimination at work, restoration of 11,000 jobs of workers sacked over the recent spates of workers’ unrest, and withdrawal of cases filed over the protests.  

A leaflet collected from a rally of light vehicle drivers and workers near the Paltan intersection sought an eight-hour work day among other demands. 

Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) held a congregation of domestic workers at Muktangon, where speakers demanded that  the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy, 2015, be properly implemented.

They claimed if adhered to, the policy could help stop torture of housemaids and ensure compensation, workplace safety, and fair pay. 

What pro-labour, leftist leaders demand

While addressing one of the rallies, Razequzzaman Ratan, general secretary of the Socialist Labour Front, said the compensation mentioned in the current labour law is "inadequate."

“The compensation has to be increased so the families of workers who are injured or killed at work can get financial support,” he suggested. 

On a separate note, Ratan asked the workers to embody leadership qualities to fight injustice and  discrimination by the authorities and employers concerned.

In another rally, Bangladesh Workers’ Party President Rashed Khan Menon termed factory and business owners as the “ultimate gainers” while workers "suffer with low pay, among other issues."

Menon, also the former social welfare minister, urged the government to initiate a pension scheme for the workers so the latter can lead a “secure life” following retirement. 

Suggesting trade unions stand alongside workers instead of supporting factory owners, he criticized the Labour Ministry’s May Day slogan “Let’s forge worker-owner unity, let’s take an oath for development.” 

He questioned: “In whose interest is the government talking about worker-owner unity when owners keep accumulating wealth while workers continue to suffer?” 

Meanwhile, Mujahidul Islam Selim, president of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, proposed that the government set Tk12,000 as the basic pay and Tk18,000 as the gross pay for apparel workers. 

“In the Liberation War, 80% workers and farmers fought for the country and achieved independence. But they are still struggling for their fair share of pay,” he complained.