The deputy commissioner said they are conducting drives to take action against them
Fear has spread among Comilla’s brickfield owners who follow illegal employment practices and worry they will be caught by the authorities. The authorities are more vigilant following an incident where a truck overturned and killed 13 brickfield workers sleeping in a shed.
However, the brickfield owners have not ceased their illegal activities and irregularities.
Upon visiting brickfields in Comilla, including Huq Brickfield, this correspondent discovered that site owners hide their child labourers if they find an unfamiliar person entering their brickfield’s premises.
Comilla Deputy Commissioner Md Abul Fazal Mir said necessary action will be taken against brickfield owners if such irregularities are witnessed during drives.
Around 4000 brickfields—legal and illegal—are situated in 17 of Comilla’s upazilas, and most of them are located in the Chauddagram and Muradnagar upazilas.
The majority of workers in these brickfields are children, and their ages range from nine to 15 years. Most of them come from the northern region of Bangladesh.
They are being made to work in brickfields for low wages through contracts by various workers' syndicates and leaders.
A worker in Huq Brickfield whose seven-month contract was valid from October to April—the brick-making season—Md Babul said: "I was brought to the brickfield by the leader, who assured me of a hefty wage. However, receiving the due wages for seven months has become difficult."
He said the workers cannot get leave despite working for a low wage; and that the workers' leader and the brick field owner would refuse to pay due wages even if only one day remained of their contract.
If the workers have to take a day off due to sickness, or for other reasons, they have to provide a replacement for themselves. The brickfield authorities have no facilities to provide food and lodging for the workers, sometimes they even have to sleep on the premises, he added.
Workers of different brickfields said they have to work to make bricks from April to October and the workers are usually on a contract. The leader pays them some money in advance.
The brick craftsmen receive the highest wages, which is around Tk1 lakh, for working 16 to 17 hours every day for six months.
The suppliers receive Tk40,000, while the top-level workers of the brick kiln get Tk70,000 to 80,000, and the bottom level, workers get Tk60,000 to 70,000.
The soil-carriers receive Tk40,000 to 50,000; however, workers get Tk300 to 400 for working seven days outside of their contract.
The workers said they have to work in two shifts. The shifts start after the fajr azan and continue till afternoon, then the workers get a break and work again until 7pm or 8pm.
The workers get their break time for a couple of hours divided among themselves. Some of them have to work for an entire night.
If the work does not satisfy their bosses, they are abused emotionally; meanwhile, some child labours also allege physical abuse.
Around 15 to 18 workers live in a tin shed near the brickfield. Alongside male workers, female and child labourers can also be seen working there.
A 12-year-old worker at Huq Brickfield, Md Bablu, said he started working at the site for three months after leaving school. He chose to work to provide some money for his poor family.
Bablu came to work in the brickfield under a six-month contract for Tk40,000. He makes 1400 to 1500 raw bricks every day. If the amount is less some days, then he gets scolded by the broker and the brick field owner.
Helal Member of Brahmanbaria works as the leader and provides workers for many brickfields in Comilla. He has 50 workers in the Huq Brickfield.
He said the workers are provided under a contract in accordance with the need of the site owner. However, most of them are 10-to-15-year-old children.
The owners do not take any responsibilities for their workers’ food supply and living arrangements. Plus, they do not give concessions even if the workers are sick.
Al Imran, director of Huq Brickfield said: "We are operating the brickfield following law and order of the District Environment Department." However, he did not answer when asked about labour law and child labour issues.
Deputy Commissioner Md Abul Fazal Mir said: "We have been strictly monitoring the brickfields, especially after the death of the 13 sleeping workers. Our mobile courts conduct drives the instant we receive complaints."
The deputy commissioner has conducted several drives in these brickfields. He said their drive to control the crime will continue.