• Wednesday, Dec 08, 2021
  • Last Update : 02:09 am

Workers’ endless wait for compensation

  • Published at 09:09 pm July 1st, 2021
Painter
File photo: A house painter paints a high-rise building without safety equipment adequate to protect himself against the dangers inherent in the job, in Dhaka's Gulshan area, Sunday, November 15, 2020 Md Manik/Dhaka Tribune

Families of victims travel hundreds of miles and wait for years to get the modest compensation

Jewel, a 28-year-old construction worker, was contracted by one Hazi Liakat Ali to mould the walls of the rooftop of his residential building in the capital’s Badda area on December 31, 2013, but without any documentation, as is the case for most jobs like this.

While working there and carrying several sacks of sand weighing almost 60kg, Jewel slipped off a ladder and fell.

After undergoing treatment for three months, he returned home when he was discharged by the hospital. 

But the damage was done. The fall left Jewel totally disabled from the waist down. His treatment at the National Institute of Traumatology and Orthopaedic Rehabilitation and the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed set him back by Tk80,000, with the doctors telling him that he would be unable to walk and do any manual labour for the rest of his life.

On August 24, 2014, the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) filed a compensation claim with the First Labour Court of Dhaka seeking Tk2,15,000 in compensation. After a long trial, the court finally issued an ex parte order on April 9, 2018 for Liakat Ali to deposit Tk2,05,000 at the court within 60 days, as compensation for Jewel. 

However, Liakat was not present when the judgment was passed and the case is still pending.

Many similar cases

There are countless injured informal sector workers like Jewel who travel hundreds of miles and wait for years to get the modest compensation they are entitled to under  Bangladesh’s labour laws.

A report published by BLAST noted that long litigation periods, non-compliance by employers, delays in payment after court orders, non-payment of compensation and travelling long distance to labour courts were the key reasons that made the compensation process difficult and tiring for injured workers and deceased workers’ families.

The study found that labour courts took 630 days on average to award compensation, nowhere near the 60-day limit set by labour laws.

The report also said the average distance between a victim's home upazila and the labour court was 201km.

“It is as if the endless wait for compensation makes workers and the people who depend on them die a slow death,” Taqbir Huda, author of the report and research specialist at BLAST, said at a webinar on Thursday.

BLAST organized the webinar to launch the report, “Tire Them Out: Challenges of Litigating Compensation Claims under the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006”.

The report includes findings from 80 compensation cases under the Labour Act, where BLAST, in collaboration with Safety and Rights Society and Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation, represented the claimants or filed lawsuits on their behalf.

The 80 cases were disposed of by labour courts in Dhaka, Rajshahi, Khulna and Chittagong between 2008 and 2019.

Taqbir Huda said at the webinar: “The publication of this report is an attempt to expose the failure of our labour laws in ensuring justice over workers’ deaths and injuries. Employers’ non-compliance with labour court orders must not be the norm.”

“A national employment injury insurance formulated in line with ILO Convention No 121 has to replace the existing group insurance scheme under labour laws, but the victims must retain the right to sue employers for compensation in labour courts since it is their negligence that usually causes the injury or death of a worker,” he added.

According to the report, the courts awarded compensation in 35 of the 80 cases and dismissed claims in 36 cases, while a pre-award settlement was reached in the rest of the cases.

In 16 out of 35 cases, the victims have yet to receive compensation despite court orders being issued 3-10 years ago.

Compensation limit, speedy trial

In his remarks, Gono Forum President Dr Kamal Hossain emphasized the need to remove the existing limit on compensation in our labour law to ensure that the victims receive adequate reparations.

It should be noted that under the Labour Act, the compensation is Tk2,50,000 for permanent total disablement and Tk2,00,000 in case of death.

“A national database needs to be established which will keep a record of the number of workers killed and injured at workplaces across the country and whether they have been compensated,” he added.

Meanwhile, Barrister Sara Hossain, honorary executive director of BLAST, said that while seeking justice in labour court, the victims faced another uphill battle — the costly endeavour of continuing their cases for long periods of time.

“This is precisely why an employment injury insurance scheme is the need of the hour, to ensure that victims have speedy access to compensation,” she said.

In light of all the impediments, the BLAST study recommended removing limits on compensation, ensuring compensation commensurate with actual loss, introducing an employment injury insurance scheme, establishing a strict monitoring mechanism and increasing the number of labour courts to ensure justice for the victims. 

The research for the report was carried out from 2018 to 2020, with support from Laudes Foundation.

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