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Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: Protecting worker rights in accordance with the law

The pandemic has been tough on workers, and most issues are yet to be resolved

Update : 01 May 2021, 06:42 AM

May Day was established from a labour movement. The American Federation of Organized Trades and Labour Unions demanded eight-hour working days back in 1884. However, it required many more years to establish the eight-hour work day. 

Worker rights have increased in most countries over the years. Labourers can be considered as workers having some inalienable rights enshrined by the constitution, as well as in the labour laws of the country.

 One of the article of the constitution concerning the worker rights is 20(1) that provides: Work is a right, a duty, and a matter of honour for every citizen who is capable of working, and everyone shall be paid for his work based on the principle “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his work.” 

However, often we find in newspapers that workers are striking for their remuneration. Thus it’s visible that the workers of our country are not being treated in the right manner. 

In addition to that, some protestors often lose their lives or get hurt by police action. Recently, we have witnessed such cruel incidents against the workers in a power plant where police open fire against agitating workers who were demanding their wages. 

As reported in The Guardian: “At least five people were killed and dozens injured in Bangladesh after police opened fire on a crowd of workers protesting to demand unpaid wages and a pay rise at a Chinese-backed power plant, officials and police said.” 

This conduct of the police may be against the rights of citizens. As Article 31 of the Constitution provides: To enjoy the protection of the law, and to be treated in accordance with law, and only in accordance with law, is the inalienable right of every citizen, wherever he may be, and of every other person for the time being within Bangladesh, and in particular no action detrimental to the life, liberty, body, reputation, or property of any person shall be taken except in accordance with law. According to the report, police have taken action against both life and body of the protestors. 

Hence, the treatment of the workers is neither acceptable nor expected. As referred to earlier, work is considered as an honour by the constitution, but such treatment of police cannot make the work worthy. In addition to that, not paying wages can be considered as a gross violation of the constitutional provision. 

The provision provides, everyone shall be paid for his work on the basis of the principle from each according to his abilities, to each according to his work. 

Another constitutional provision related to the said issue is Article 15. Article 15 (b) and (c) provides, it shall be a fundamental responsibility of the state to attain, through planned economic growth, a constant increase of productive forces and a steady improvement in the material and cultural standard of living of the people, with a view to securing to its citizens (b) the right to work, that is the right to guaranteed employment at a reasonable wage having regard to the quantity and quality of work; and (c) the right to reasonable rest, recreation, and leisure. Though the constitution included these vital rights of the workers to be served by the state from the beginning, these are still to be served. 

Currently, another challenge is to provide a healthy working environment for the workers, considering the Covid situation. A hopeful sign is the launching of guidelines on occupational safety and health to prevent and mitigate Covid-19 risk at the workplace. Tuomo Poutiainen, Country Director, ILO Bangladesh said: “Unsafe work environments and poor OSH practices threaten both health and business resilience. 

The ILO is working closely with the Bang ladesh government, workers’ and employers’ organizations to combat the impact of Covid-19 on livelihoods and the economy. 

This timely guideline provides effective contingency plans for business continuity that will ensure the safety of individuals in workplaces and help secure the sustainability of businesses and jobs.” 

However, job losses, decreases in income, and increases in expenditure (like transport) during Covid and the lockdown are detrimental for thousands of workers. These issues have not been fixed, thus workers are in trouble. 

Workers are wealth-makers for our country, and are also considered nation-builders. So they should not be treated unjustly. 

And their rights are to be ensured in accordance with the law.

Maruf Ul Abed is Apprentice Advocate at Dhaka Bar.

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