Bangladesh, which currently stands as one of the leading countries in South-East Asia, is home to a robust workforce of almost 90 million individuals, out of the national population of more than 168 million people. With recent years having heavy growth of industrialization and foreign investment leading to higher requirement of specialization, a part of the workforce is also coming from foreign jurisdictions. Steady growth in the Bangladeshi economy over the years has also given rise to a comprehensive labour law framework for adequate regulation of both employees and employers.

This article aims at providing an in-depth overview of the rights and freedoms guaranteed to workers under the currently prevailing statutes.

Constitutional Law

Some fundamental principles relating to workers are provided for in the Constitution of Bangladesh. Such as the responsibility of the State to ensure the right to work, the right to be paid for the work and for people to be paid as per their abilities to perform work.

In addition, the fundamental rights guaranteed in Part III of the Constitution, especially relevant to workers’ rights, include a blanket prohibition on all forms of forced labour and making it a punishable offence; and guarantee to the right to freedom of association and to form trade unions.

The Bangladesh Labour Act 2006

The first labour law in Bangladesh was more than a century old- it was enacted during the British period in the year 1881. Since then, the legislation has significantly evolved from time to time. The Factories Act (1881), Workmen’s Compensation Act (1923), Trade Unions Act (1926), Trade Disputes Act (1929), Payment of Wages Act (1936), Maternity Benefit Act (1939), and the Employment of Children Act (1938) were some of the more specific laws enacted during the British period.

The Bangladesh Labour Act enacted in 2006, is currently considered the leading statute for labour law in the country. The Bangladesh Labour Rules was enacted in 2015 and it has further defined the provisions laid down in the Bangladesh Labour Act. The statute is a well-drafted consolidation of the previously existing laws and is fairly comprehensive in the sense that it lays down detailed guidelines and regulations across a plethora of labour aspects such as conditions of service and employment, youth employment, maternity benefit, health and hygiene, safety, welfare, working hours and leave, wages and payment, among others. Furthermore, the Act and Rules along with their later amendments have removed a number of ambiguities and loopholes that existed in the previous laws. The Bangladesh Labour Act and Rules have also taken concrete steps in implementing several of the International Labour Conventions (ILOs) such as the Conventions on Abolition of Forced Labour, Equal Remuneration, Freedom Of Association, etc.

Who is A Worker Under Law?

Under the 2006 Act, a worker or “labour” is defined as

  • any person (including a trainee/probationer), who is employed directly or through a contractor/agency, for any skilled, unskilled, physical, technical, business development or clerical job in any establishment or industry.
  • More importantly, it will not include a person employed mainly in a managerial, administrative [or supervisory] capacity

Some of the basic rights that have been guaranteed to workers under the Labour laws of Bangladesh have been highlighted below:

Right To Limited Working Hours And Leave

Under international law, the right to limited and humane working hours and the right to leave is considered some of the most basic freedoms that must be guaranteed to workers.

  • The Labour Act caps the number of working hours in any establishment on a working day at 8 hours. In other words, workers cannot be coerced to work more than 8 hours by their respective employers. Working beyond 8 hours shall be considered overtime and will need to be compensated accordingly.
  • The statute also mandates intervals during the working day depending upon the total number of working hours.
  • The maximum number of working hours at any establishment on any given week has been capped at 48 working hours beyond which it would be considered overtime.
  • A weekly holiday of one and a half days and one day has been provided for workers in the shop or commercial establishment, and a factory establishment respectively.

In a similar manner, the Act also addresses the aspects of Casual Leave, Sick Leave and Annual Leave with Wages. There are also provisions for festival bonuses and leaves.

Right To Equal Pay

The Labour Act clearly states that employers must follow the principle of equal pay for equal work in case of both men and women while determining the wages of an employee and prohibits any discrimination whatsoever in this regard.

Right To Compensation For Injury By Accident

In case a worker sustains an injury through an accident during the course of employment, the labour law guarantees adequate compensation. This is to make sure that the aggrieved worker gets something in return for his physical disability or financial losses in current from such injury.

The Act of 2006 elaborates in detail on the workmen’s right to compensation for injury by accident. Depending on the nature of the injury and consequences arising from the same, the Act prescribes the amount of compensation that is to be given to the worker in question and the method of calculating the same.

Right To Form And Associate With Trade Unions

The Labour Act, 2006 allows for the formation of trade unions by workers as a matter of right whose primary objective would be to regulate the relations between workers and employers or workers and workers. The right to join a trade union of their choosing has been vested in each worker.

Right To Maternity Leave

This provision is specifically applicable to women employees who become mothers during the course of employment. In the current framework, the Labour Act provides for 16 weeks of paid maternity leave i.e. 8 weeks prior to the delivery and 8 weeks post-delivery. However, this right to contingent on whether the female employee in question has been employed for at least six months in the factory. In addition to this, a population control measure has been introduced in this section which mandates that women already having 2 or more children would not get any benefit of maternity leave.  

Workers’ Right To Health And Sanitation

One of the major highlights of the statute, the 2006 Act places considerable emphasis on the workers’ right to health and sanitation under which a host of obligations have been placed on the employer to ensure humane working conditions.

  • The Act mandates cleanliness at the workplace by setting deadlines for cleaning the workplace at regular intervals of time. It also provides for proper drainage facilities at workplaces where the manufacturing process involves wet materials and overall maintenance of all workplaces.
  • The statute also mandates proper ventilation and temperature of the workplace so as to provide adequate comfort to the workers and prevent any injury to their health.
  • In addition to this, the 2006 Act provides that employers shall have to take appropriate measures for workplaces which involve excessive amounts of dust and fumes so as to prevent accumulation of the same that may lead to life-threatening consequences.

In a similar manner, the subsequent provisions address certain additional issues such as proper disposal mechanisms for wastes and effluents, availability of adequate and clean drinking water for the workers and clean sanitation facilities for the workers.    

Workers’ Right To Adequate Welfare Facilities

The Bangladesh Labour Act guarantees a plethora of welfare facilities to workers for better upliftment and job satisfaction.

  • The Act mandates the availability of readily accessible and well-equipped first aid boxes as well as sick rooms with a proper dispensary for workers in every establishment.
  • The Act also prescribes adequate and suitable washing facilities for workers in every establishment which shall be kept accessible and clean by the employer.
  • In addition to this, the Labour Act instructs employers to establish and properly maintain canteens at all workplaces which ordinarily employ more than 100 workers.
  • Furthermore, the Act mandates the setting up of adequate and suitable restrooms or shelters wherein the workers can eat the food brought by them. Such restrooms must be properly lighted and ventilated and be maintained in a clean and cool condition. One such provision also provides for separate rooms for children brought along by women workers.

From a prima-facie reading of the law, it becomes evident that the 2006 Act has been enacted with a comprehensive viewpoint as it adequately addresses almost all labour-related issues in contemporary times and vests workers with a plethora of rights while imposing the corresponding duties upon the employer. Proper implementation of the statute by the executive and judicial authorities is likely to result in labour-employer harmony in the country, as well as economic growth and progress.

Written and compiled by the Corporate and M&A team at Mahbub & Company