Experts emphasize the importance of decent work environment and workers’ rights at a round-table discussion jointly organized by ActionAid Bangladesh and Dhaka Tribune
The informal sector in Bangladesh, which employs nearly 87% of the country’s total workforce, needs to be compliant as much as possible in order to maintain an all-inclusive, healthy growth, speakers at a round-table discussion said.
They also laid emphasis on protecting the rights of the workers, who play a significant role in keeping the country’s economy going, ultimately helping to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, and become a developed country by 2041.
The call came at a roundtable titled “Decent work for young people: Employers’ compliance and workers’ rights,” jointly organized by ActionAid Bangladesh and Dhaka Tribune at the latter’s conference room in Dhaka yesterday.
This is the first of a series of roundtables that the national daily plans to hold in association with the development organisation.
Speaking at the discussion, Towfiqul Islam Khan, senior research fellow at independent think tank Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said a massive number of women are losing motivation to work due to the absence of decent workplaces.
“We need to think about it. Women’s participation in the job market is on a decline as most of them are facing difficulties in following the career paths they choose for themselves,” he said, hinting at the informal sector.
Stressing the necessity of a decent working atmosphere, the CPD fellow said: “Decent workplace is mandatory for us to achieve the SDGs.”
Saying that the country’s economy is based on the labour market, he said: “We must take initiatives to enhance the skills of our workers in order to get the best output from them."
Presiding over the event, Farah Kabir, country director of ActionAid Bangladesh, said the government needs to pay more attention to the informal sector, which employs nearly 87% of the country’s total labour force.
“Many laws and rules focused on labour are amended (for the betterment of workers), but they are not implemented properly,” she said, adding that the sector would expand further in future.
People engaged in agriculture need to be trained as it is the major part of the informal sector, providing livelihood to around 40% of the country’s total workforce, she said.
“Considering the current status of Bangladesh, there is no scope to think anything beyond decent working atmosphere,” she added.
Terming the informal sector a long neglected one, Dhaka Tribune Executive Editor Reaz Ahmad said the government cannot create jobs beyond an optimum level, which is why the private sector came forward to address the issue.
“But it (the private sector) has been failing to institutionalize (workplace safety), causing compliance to remain ignored,” he added.
Reaz further said that the government, in the recently proposed budget for the next fiscal year, vowed to create 30 million jobs annually by 2030, but this is a major challenge due to many conditions involved.
He suggested that the workers be prepared for the ever-competitive and growing job market.
Kabir Hossain, an official at the Access to Information (a2i) program under the Prime Minister’s Office, said education must be oriented towards building skills, otherwise it would be of hardly any benefit.
“With Bangladesh on its way to achieve Vision 2021 targets and become a developed country by 2041, education and skills must go hand in hand,” the a2i official further said.
Dr Wajedul Islam Khan, acting secretary general at the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies, said employers must ensure compliance to get better productivity from the workers.
“A decent working atmosphere will push up employee productivity by a wide margin,” he added.
Farzana Afrin Tithi, research coordinator of Karmojibi Nari, a working women’s rights advocate, said despite being a formal sector, the apparel industry employs a number of people, mostly women, without an appointment letter, depriving them of all kinds of job benefits.
“The female RMG workers are not even given promotion since the employers or factory owners prefer men in higher positions, so the men can put pressure on their subordinates to get extra work done,” Tithi further said.
“The situation is even worse for those working in the construction sector and as household help, as in most scenarios they are not given a job contract or even leave – let alone the basic rights as employees,” she observed.
In many cases, female workers aged over 30-35 years are either not employed or fired from their jobs, with the belief that younger women are more productive and can get more work done, she said, urging the policymakers to address the matter.
Echoing a similar sentiment, Ismet Jarin, project coordinator of Awaj Foundation, said women above 35 years suffer from many health issues due to poor work environment.
“At one stage, they are forced to return to their village homes in search of a better living,” she added, citing that many workers are not trained in line with new technologies, causing them to fall behind in the competitive job market.
Mamunur Rahman, from Swisscontact Bangladesh, said business incentive as well as awareness among employers and workers can sort out the loopholes in the informal sector.
Anwar Hossain, general secretary at the Bangladesh Hotel Restaurant Sweetmeat Bakery Sramik Union, said the government had set Tk 3,000 as the minimum wage for workers in the industry back in 2009, but the owners barely implement that.
The round-table discussion was also addressed, among others, by Aslam Khan, general secretary at the Bangladesh Trade Union Centre, Mahenaw Wara, program manager of skill development at Brac, Md Abdullah Al Maamun, manager of youth and economic empowerment program at Plan International, and Mirza Nurul Ghani Shovon, chairman of Informal Sector Industry Skills Council.