Saber Ahmed worked as a storekeeper at Kattali Textile Ltd in Chattogram for 20 years. He sustained injuries to a finger of the left leg at his workplace in May 2016. Later, the leg had to be amputated after he developed sepsis.
He could not rejoin work due to his long treatment and the employer refused to pay the medical expenses, compensation, and service benefits amounting to Tk9 lakh.
Saber, finding no other way, lodged a case with the Chattogram First Labour Court on February 2 last year. But the trial process saw little progress because of the absence of a judge at the court.
Like Saber, as many as 1,998 cases are pending with Chattogram’s two labour courts, causing litigants to endure a long wait for justice. The backlog worsened due to the absence of judges.
Currently, there are seven labour courts in Bangladesh –three in Dhaka, two in Chattogram, and one each in Rajshahi and Khulna.
While Chattogram’s First Labour Court has been without a judge since January 1, the second one has not had a judge for over a year, halting the trial proceedings of many cases.
As of March 31 of this year, 1,260 cases are pending with the first court while 738 cases are stuck at the second one.
Many of the cases have been pending for years, although Bangladesh labour law requires all cases to be disposed of within 60 days.
Most of the cases lodged with the courts are related to disputes over layoffs, dismissals, retrenchment, non-payment, and compensation for workplace casualties.
Labour rights activists and trade union leaders demanded that judges should be appointed on an emergency basis to solve the problem.
Tapan Dutta, president of Bangladesh Trade Union Centre (TUC), Chattogram, said the gap between the numbers of cases filed and the cases disposed of, was widening because of the absence of judges at the courts.
“Case backlogs and undue delay in case disposal are hindering people’s access to justice. Aggrieved workers will naturally feel discouraged to take their grievances to the courts if the trial proceedings are halted. That’s why the government should appoint judges to the courts without delay,” said Dutta, also a member of the First Labour Court.
Mohammad Mamun, general secretary of Trade Union Sangha, told Dhaka Tribune the absence of judges meant that cases required to be resolved within 60 days are not settled in even 60 months.
“The plaintiffs, most of whom are helpless workers, are facing immense suffering due to the backlog. The procrastination in case disposal erodes people’s confidence in the law. The government should take urgent steps in this regard,” he added.
The First Labour Court of Chattogram has its jurisdiction over Chattogram, Cox’s Bazar, Bandarban, Rangamati, Khagrachhari, Noakhali, Lakshmipur, Brahmanbaria, Chandpur, and Feni.
The Second Labour Court Chattogram has its jurisdiction over Double Mooring and Chandgaon areas of Chattogram, Cumilla, Habiganj, Sylhet, and Sunamganj.