Justice comes slow for those who come seeking it in the labour courts in Bangladesh
Thousands of workers have been waiting for justice from labour courts, where a huge number of cases remain pending – mainly due to slow trial proceedings and negligence in officials' duties.
Seven labour courts, and the only labour Appellate Tribunal in the country, are burdened with a backlog of 17,608 cases, sources said.
Many of the cases have been stuck for over six years, even though labour law states that cases should be disposed of within 60 days.
According to the official count, 10,838 cases have remained pending for over six months; 3,495 for over three months, and 3,275 for more than one month.
A total of 1,047 cases remain pending with the Appellate tribunal; 4,576 in Dhaka First Labour Court; 5,263 in Dhaka Second Court; 4,005 in Dhaka Third Court; 1,510 in Chittagong First Court; 578 in Chittagong Second Court; 214 in Khulna Labour Court and 415 in Rajshahi Labour Court.
Most of the cases are from the apparel sector and relate to disputes arising out of layoffs, dismissals, retrenchment, non-payment and delayed payment of wages and other benefits, compensation for workplace injuries and violation of trade union rights.
Cases piling up for decades
Legal experts said the huge backlog of cases was created due to a shortage of courts. The general practice of labour courts to sit only for an hour every day, allow repeated time petitions and the owners' unwillingness to settle cases – all contribute to the backlog.
The owners' counsels stay absent from most of the hearings, and file repeated unnecessary time petitions, which further delay the decisions and linger the case proceedings.
Mina Begum, a former employee at Big Boss Corporation Ltd, resigned from her job on November 15, 2011 – 13 years after she joined the corporation on October 1, 1998.
Later, she filed a case against the company with the Dhaka First Labour Court, under section 132 of the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 in March 2012, seeking Tk 44,866 in dues from the company.
But the case is still pending due to the extremely slow pace of proceedings.
Md Abul Hashem Mozumder joined the City Bank Ltd on May 14, 1987, as a typist; later, he was promoted to senior computer operator. The bank authorities removed him from the job on May 8, 2013.
The city bank employee filed a case against the bank, under section 33 (1) of the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006, seeking court directives to reinstate him in his post along with all earlier facilities. But the case is yet to be disposed of, although six years have elapsed after the incident.
Just like Mina and Hashem, thousands of workers face sufferings due to delay in disposal of cases at the labour court.
Although the country’s employed people are over 6 crore, only seven labour courts are now dealing the cases of workers across the country.
According to Law Ministry sources, six labour courts were set up in Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna and Rajshahi in 1972, while another court was set up in Chittagong in 1994.
The only Labour Appellate Tribunal was set up in Dhaka to deal with the cases.
If a worker intends to file a case, he or she needs to travel long distances to the nearest court, which is time-consuming and costly, said the sufferers.
Talking to Dhaka Tribune, Garment Workers Trade Union Centre General Secretary, Joly Talukder, said the lengthy legal procedures make it difficult for the workers attend the proceedings of labour courts.
She said a worker needs a whole day’s leave from the employer to attend a hearing in a labour court, which is not possible most of the time.
Joly urged the government to set up more labour courts and take necessary initiatives for quick disposal of the cases to cut sufferings of workers.
Adhir Chandra Bala, register of Labour Appellate Tribunal said: “We are doing our level best to dispose of the cases quickly."
He added that the government is going to set up three more labour courts in Sylhet, Barishal and Rangpur to reduce sufferings of those who come to courts seeking justice.