The case for an allowance for private sector employees on the Bengali New Year
Even if Pohela Boishakh is deemed a “universal festival” for the Bengalis, only a segment of salaried people -- mainly the government employees -- are entitled to a Boishakh allowance.
As Pohela Boishakh nears, people go on shopping sprees. Embracing something new and auspicious, people are getting ready to bid adieu to all that is old and weary. Since the introduction of the Boishakh allowance/bonus, the country’s trade or economy centring the Boishakh celebration has been on the rise across the country. But, unfortunately, most of private sector employees have been deprived of the allowance for the fourth consecutive year. Isn’t it a kind of discrimination?
In April 2016, government employees got -- for the first time -- 20% of their basic salary as a Boishakh allowance/bonus, which was introduced by the present government. Some 2.1 million government officials and staff, including employees of autonomous bodies and government-owned banks, are entitled to the festival bonus which was first recommended by Dr Farashuddin.
No doubt, the government showed a laudable gesture in introducing the Boishakh allowance for government employees. The celebration of the first day of the Bangla New Year would be enjoyable and significant for the government officials as usual, because they have got their festival allowance. But what will happen to the millions of non-government employees?
The nation welcomes the very first day of the Bengali New Year (Bangla Noboborsho) amid traditional fanfare and festivity. The day brings people -- irrespective of age, religion, colour, race, and social status -- together in cultural practices deeply rooted in a secular ethos. But simultaneously, hundreds of thousands of people working in the private sector -- banks, financial institutions, educational institutions, media houses, corporate houses, publishing houses, garments industries, factories, and so on -- are in despair because they do not get the Boishakh bonus.
Isn’t it frustrating for a large number of professionals or working people -- such as teachers, bankers, doctors, engineers, architects, journalists, garments workers, and others -- working in non-government organizations as they have been deprived of Boishakh bonus over the years?
We know that people, working in both public and private sectors, get their bonuses for religious festivals (Eid, Puja, Christmas, and etc) every year. Then isn’t it unbecoming that a large number of employees in the private sector are not entitled to Boishakh allowance for the nation’s biggest non-communal festival?
As per the Constitution of Bangladesh, Article 19 (1) reads: “The state shall endeavour to ensure equality of opportunity to all citizens.” Again article 19 (2) reiterates: “The state shall adopt effective measures to remove social and economic inequality between man and man and to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth among citizens, and of opportunities in order to attain a uniform level of economic development throughout the republic.”
Therefore, the introduction of Boishakh bonus only for government employees seems to not conform to the spirit of our constitution.
We can remember the prime minister’s request in a meeting held at Ganabhaban, where she termed Pohela Boishakh a universal festival. While introducing another festival bonus for Bengali New Year, she also urged -- in a delightful and positive manner -- the private sector employers to comply with the government decision, so that it could not cause any discrimination against the millions of working people at the private sector.
Last year, we saw that a few private sector banks and media houses announced their decision to give their staff 20% (as a festival allowance) of basic salary. In 2016, a few banks, Al-Arafah Islami Bank, Prime Bank, First Security Islami Bank, Union Bank, NRB Commercial Bank, NRB Global Bank, and South Bangla Agriculture and Commerce Bank, introduced the Boishakh bonus complying with the government move.
We thought this initiative taken by some private banks would definitely give a push to the employers of other private organizations. But it didn’t happen, and most of them did not pay heed to the PM’s call. Now the question is -- how long will the working people be waiting for the expected announcement from the private sector?
Now, it’s high time the private sector employers/entrepreneurs reached a quick decision to introduce the Boishakh bonus in order to remove discrimination and comply with the inspirational move taken by the government.
Pohela Boishakh, thought to be the biggest national festival for Bengalis, not only marks the beginning of a new year, but also unites people with a common purpose. So this incentive, the Boishakh bonus, should have a positive impact on every person’s life, ranging from a salaried person to a labourer working in both public and private organizations.
We do appreciate the government’s move, and at the same time, we are eagerly awaiting a positive response from private sector employers immediately. Otherwise, the universality of the celebration of Pohela Boishakh will be marred, and the existing disparity will result in discord?
Sheikh Nahid Neazy is an Associate Professor and Chair, Department of English, Stamford University Bangladesh.