For the first time in over 30 years, the Labour Ministry has agreed with the recommendation of a parliamentary watchdog that asked the government to recognise agricultural workers as labourers and set minimum wage for them.
In presence of State Minister for Labour and Employment Mujibul Haque, the parliamentary standing committee at its yesterday’s meeting suggested that the agricultural workers be recognised as labourers in the labour law 2013.
Answering to the demands of the watchdog, the state minister said his ministry had already fixed minimum wage for the labourers of 37 out of 42 sectors the labour act had stipulated. The minimum wage for the rest of the five sectors would be completed in a couple of years.
Military ruler HM Ershad on February 22, 1984 promulgated Agricultural Labour (Minimum Wages) Ordinance to save them from exploitation.
The ordinance stipulated that minimum daily wage of an agricultural worker must be 3.27 kilograms of rice or such amount of money equal to rice. But the ordinance remained unimplemented.
Awami League MP and committee member Israfil Alam raised the issue of recognising the agricultural workers as labourers. He said the farmers in Bangladesh had made huge contributions to the economy by making the food deficit country into food surplus.
But they were yet to get a minimum wage structure and recognition of the government.
“The prime minister has given some instructions to recognise the agricultural workers as labourers. So, we have agreed in principle with this suggestion to set minimum wage for agricultural workers,” Mujibul Haque told the Dhaka Tribune after the meeting held at the parliament building.
The minister said he would hold talks with stakeholders and send proposals to the prime minister for final directives in this regard.
Inclusion of the agricultural workers in the definition of labourers needs amendment to the labour act 2013.
The labour rights activists oppose such a move.
“This is a bad practice of setting the so-called minimum wages for different sectors. Rather the government must announce a uniform wage for the workers of all sectors. Then each of the sectors, depending on their performance, would fix minimum wages for different sectors,” Wazedul Islam, one of the frontline labour leaders, told the Dhaka Tribune.
He said the government in 1968-69 announced a national wage structure for all labourers irrespectively; it was Tk125 per month in the industrial areas and Tk140 per month for industries in Karachi.
Labour unrest in the ready-made garment sector had come down significantly after the government fixed minimum wage of Tk5,300 per month.
The labour activists say the wage structure HM Ershad followed in 1984 would not work here. For instance, an agricultural worker would get Tk150 (the price of 3.27kg rice) per day in line with the ordinance.
But an agricultural worker depending on the areas get at least Tk300 per day plus daily meal. Again, many areas do not get adequate number of agricultural labourers.
Munnuzan Sufian, the watchdog chairman, presided over the meeting. Lawmakers Anwarul Abedin Khan, Chhobi Biswas, Shirin Akhter, Ruhul Amin and Roksana Yasmin were present.