Dr. M Abul Kashem Mozumder and Dr. Md. Shairul Mashreque
The great seminal event like May Day reminds us of the protection of workers' rights-their occupational safety and human rights. We have fundamental rights in the Constitution and Constitutional obligations and legal arrangements for safeguarding the interests of the workers. Workers' rights are legal and human rights "having to do with labour relations beyween the employers and the workers. In general, these rights' debates have to do with negotiating workers' pay, benefits, and safe working conditions". 'One of the most central of these rights' is the right to form Trade Union. 'Unions take advantage of collective bargaining and industrial action to increase their members' wage and otherwise change their working conditions.'
There has been cynical views about the movement for workers' rights with Trade Union inspiring and instigating the disgruntled workers. They tend to hit out at all sorts of disruptions and destructive activities, lock out. "In general, these rights' debates have to do with negotiating workers' pay. One of the most central of these rights is the rights to form Union. Unions take advantage of collective bargaining to increase their members' wages and otherwise change their working situation. The labour movement initially focused on this 'right to unionize', but attention has shifted elsewhere."
Labor rights have become the esential ingredients of the 'modern corpus of human rights'. Marx and Angles are most 'prominent advocates for workers rights.' Their doctrine of state based on economic exploitation and class struggle focused on labor issues and scientific socialism. Many of the social movement for the rights of the workers were associated with groups influenced by Marx and Engels "More recent workers rights advocacy has focused on the particular role, exploitation, and needs of women workers, and of increasingly mobile global flows of casual service, or guest workers."
Marx and Engels bequeathed this prejudice to the socialist parties of western Europe. They also bequeathed to their followers the doctrine that peasant cultivation was inefficient because of the small size of the units and that it was foredoomed to be replaced by large-scale agriculture. In Marx's eyes the growth of capitalism was certain, in the course of time, to break up the class of peasant proprietors, each with his own land, work animals, and implements. Some few of these independent proprietors would become capitalist employers relying upon hired labor to carry on their agriculture. Many more of them would lose their land and turn into agricultural proletarians who would have to go out and seek work as wage laborers.
As the Socialist movement grew in Germany and France, the problem of its relation to the peasantry became pressing. To some of the Socialist leaders, the process of the breakup of the peasantry which Marx had foreseen seemed to be occurring very slowly, if at all. Nonetheless, in the early 1890s, after Marx's death, Engels insisted on the soundness of Marx's analysis and his prediction. By his firmness on this point, Engels cut the ground out from under the Socialist politicians of the day who were hoping to make an alliance with the peasantry against the landlords and industrialists.
The logical corollary of Marx and Engels' position was that it would be wrong for the socialist parties to support measures designed to aid peasant agriculture. Such tactics could serve only to prolong artificially the existence of a stratum which was economically outmoded, socially backward, and politically conservative. Instead, the Socialists should encourage the class demands of the agricultural laborers, who were the natural allies of the urban industrial workers.
ILO was established in 1919 to protect worker's rights. "The ILO later became incorporated into the UN that itself backed workers rights by incorporating several into two articles of the United nations Declaration of Human rights that turned out to be the basis of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural (article 6-8). These read:
1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
3. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests
1. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
The ILO and other international organization advocate international labour standard to create legal 'for workers across the world. Recent movements have also been made to encourage countries to promote labor rights at the international level through fair trade.'
Here we stress only child labor as a case in point. Child labour is a multi-dimensional and complex issue: it is symptomatic of economic vulnerability, an inadequate legislative framework and labour laws, institutional barriers, cultural and social inequities and an inaccessible, low-quality educational system, including inadequate provision of technical and vocational education (TVE). The incidence of child labour in Bangladesh is high. Bangladesh is a low-income country. In 2003 the per capita gross domestic product was estimated at USD 489 (ADB, 2008 and from 1997-2006, 36% of the population lived below the poverty line with an income less than $1 USD per day (UNDP, 2005). It should be noted that nearly 83% of the population had an income less than $2 USD (UNDP, 2005). Research has shown that in countries with a per capita income of $500 USD or less, the child labour force participation is extremely high at 30-60% (ILO, 2006). Children either drop out or become irregular attendees at school, to work to augment the family income.
In Bangladesh like in other underdeveloped countries poor children grow up on the margins of society in a state of neglect and deprivation, without educations, affection, care and guidance. Their involvement in works holds manifold hazards and risks. The main problems about their life include difficulty in getting job, or even if the job is found, the dissatisfaction at job, misbehavior from the employers, scarcity of money when they are ill and have to buy medicine or when they need doctor, only one dress to wear in the school and no time to play in the afternoon when, all others play. The burden of works for a meager wage compels them to sacrifice rights to education. The ILO convention states that a job that contradicts with right to education is not approved for a 12 years old child. In 2003 'Global March' seminar (Brazil) proclaimed right of children to education, end of child exploitation, removing obstacles to child development and stopping child labour.
As UNICEF reports: Bangladesh's 421,000 child domestic workers (three-quarters are girls) face particular vulnerabilities because they work behind closed doors. Almost all child domestic workers work seven days a week and 90 per cent sleep at their employer's home, meaning that they are completely dependent on their employers and often have restrictions on their mobility and freedom. About 60 per cent report some kind of abuse during their work, such as scolding or slapping. Levels of exploitation are also extremely high, as indicated by the fact that more than half receive no wage at all (they instead receive benefits such as accommodation, food and clothing - further reinforcing dependency on their employer). Hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi children work in hazardous jobs. These are jobs that have been identified by the ILO to expose children to hazards including: physical, psychological or sexual abuse; excessive work hours; an unhealthy environment. For instance, 3,400 children work in brick/ stone breaking for the construction industry
Child Labour Monitoring (CLM) and occupational health and safety (OHS) are integrated interventions under the Projects of ILO combating hazardous works in child labour. OHS is the benchmark against which labour inspectors and community monitors implement CLM, and against which labour inspectors keep track of the children's workplaces. Monitoring ensures that working children are not engaged in hazardous work, are working according to agreed upon time, and are attending classes regularly. Monitoring by labour inspectors in factories/ workplaces also ascertains that work conditions, processes, and materials used conform to the OHS guidelines for each sector. As a first step in developing the guidelines for regulating work environments in the 3 sectors, the OHSD. Occupational Health and Safety Assessments (OSHA) have been conducted in the work environments for the 3 sectors. ILO-IPEC supported this activity by providing an expatriate OSH consultant who directly assisted in the Assessments. The results served as bases for the OHS Checklist and Monitoring Forms that are now being used by labour inspectors and community monitors as they keep track of the working children in both the factory or workplaces and their homes. Monitoring in the home assumes relevance in the fishing sector since children and parents undertake home-based crab/shrimp processing. The Checklist and Monitoring forms ensure that employers/parents conform to OHS guidelines
(Dr. M Abul Kashem Mozumder, Pro VC, BUP and Dr. Md. Shairul Mashreque, Ex Professor of Public Administration, Chittagong University.)