The historic May Day is being observed today throughout the country and elsewhere in the world to show respect to workers who shed their blood for the establishment of the rights of the working class in 1886. On this day 128 years ago, the workers of the Hay Market of Chicago, USA, sacrificed their lives to ensure eight-hour working days for workers. Since then, the day has been observed all over the world as the day for solidarity with working people.
A major new step in the labour front was the establishment of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) three decades after the decision to observe May Day internationally. The ILO was established in 1919 to promote social justice for the working class. It formulates international policies and programs to improve working and living conditions, and creates international labour standards to serve as guidelines for national authorities in putting those policies in action.
Consciousness about labour rights did not come overnight. In the beginning, everyone worked with their own hands. Then society came to be divided between the rich and poor, the exploiter and the exploited. The exploited were put to hard labour. Though slavery was formally abolished, vestiges remain. The dignity of labour is yet to be fully restored.
The labour movement has a proud heritage in Bangladesh. The country is a signatory to the ILO convention and has a number of legislations for labour welfare.
The government is also keen on improving the lot of the working class, and their concern extends to spheres where the labour is not organised. Self-styled labour leaders, particularly after the emergence of Bangladesh, have sprung up only to give lip service to some parties.
On this great day, some questions haunt the minds of those who really feel for just causes of the working class. Why have extraneous elements found place as representatives of labourers? Why have bargaining agents failed to occupy their rightful position, and are not representing the workers? Why has the government in the past fiddled with the fates of the helpless lot by creating more than one union? What is the achievement of the past BNP government in creating confidence and restoring industrial peace and harmony? These questions need to be answered.
This concept must be changed for the restoration of a congenial environment conducive to uninterrupted operations of all industrial establishments. Labour unions, in most cases, have become unreasonable and come up with fantastic demands only to help in the closure of the units. It must be understood that better employer-employee relations can only ensure productivity and welfare of the workers.
They cannot always think in terms of agitation, strikes, and “gherao-jalao” tactics. The wages invariably have to be linked with productivity, and the demand for higher wages cannot reasonably be pressed without increasing output.
The working atmosphere has to be made conducive and peaceful, especially for women workers. The efforts to remove economic and social causes for the swelling number of children engaged in labour have to be identified. Corruption in the labour directorate has to be handled very seriously.
Last year’s Savar disaster has jolted the country and the world. In our country, poor labourers are always neglected; they don’t get their wages properly and in time. RMG workers should be given their rights to open trade unions in all sectors.
To stop this type of disaster, particularly in the garments sector, garment owners should be made to follow the government’s building code. Violators should be brought to book. Labour unrest in Bangladesh should be brought under control by paying workers their dues regularly and on time.