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Strengthening Labour Adjudication in Bangladesh

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Focus Keyword: Bangladesh Labour Law 

At present, labour courts in Bangladesh are functioning under the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006. According to this Act, the labour court is a unique and distinctive court, the constitution of which is based on tripartite representation model. The Court consists of a chairman and two members, one representing the workers and the other representing the employer. The Chairman represents the state as s/he is appointed by the Government from amongst the District or Additional District Judges. There is a panel of members of the labour court from which the Chairman appoints two members to constitute the court for the purpose of hearing an industrial dispute or a dispute relating to the service/employment of the workers. The Court in trying offences under the Act or resolving a dispute relating to the payment of wages or of compensation to workers for accidents, consists only of the Chairman.

Appeal from the judgments, decisions, or awards of Labour Court lies to the Labour Appellate Tribunal. The Tribunal may be constituted with one Chairman alone or with the Chairman and such other members as the Government may fix. The Chairman may be appointed from amongst the persons who are or had been a Judge or Additional Judge of the Supreme Court. Ordinarily the decisions of the Tribunal is final, no appeal lies against the order or judgment of the Tribunal.

As of now, there are only 7 Labour Courts across the country (3 in Dhaka, 2 in Chittagong, and 1 each in Rajshahi and Khulna). There is only one Labour Appellate Tribunal at Dhaka. By analyzing court registers, it is found that, till September 2016: in the Labour Courts of Bangladesh, 15128 cases were pending among these 11272 cases were pending for more than six months. It is also found that, case filing rate is higher than case disposal rate. As a result backlog and delay in disposal of cases, both are increasing simultaneously, which cause great sufferings to the working masses.

Following are some causes of delay and recommendations to strengthen and accelerate the labour adjudication system in Bangladesh and to mitigate people’s sufferings:

1. A Labour Court despite being a tripartite adjudicatory body, law has not provided any criteria of judicial knowledge, experience or minimum qualification for members except the Chairman. Though the Labour Court is a specialized judicial body, but there is no provision for any prior experience (in dealing with labour law matters) or minimum training for judges before appointing here from lower judiciary. As a result, indifference, unskillfulness, incapacity and unprofessionalism of judges and members hinder the proceedings of labour courts. These things should be considered for smooth functioning of the labour courts.

2. Though the Act mandated the Government to establish required number of labour courts. The Government so far established only 7 Labour Courts. Among these, Courts of Dhaka and Chittagong are situated in the divisional headquarters. Even there is no labour court at four divisions-Sylhet, Barisal, Rangpur and Mymensingh. As a result, a tea garden worker of Sylhet and a rice-mill worker of Brahmanbaria has to go the Labour Court of Chittagong to file cases for their grievance, unpaid wages and compensation. A worker of Syedpur has to go the Labour Court of Rajshahi and a worker of Barishal has to go Khulna for seeking labour justice. After traveling hundreds of kilometers and after waiting months after months, remedy awarded by the labour courts simply becomes mockery to the workers when their claims are so minimal. That’s why, instead of going courts for their redress many workers have to embrace injustice. Harassing the toiling masses and workers such a way in the name of delivering justice amount to exploitation by the state which is contrary to the spirit of our Constitution. To make the labour courts accessible to the workers and to facilitate them to recover their legal rights at least one Labour Court (constituted with a Joint District Judge) should be established in every district and two in every district having industrial area and at least one Labour Appellate Tribunal (constituted with a District Judge) in every division of Bangladesh.

3. Though the Act mandated to complete trial in the Labour Courts and Tribunal/s within 60 days, it is found that about 50% cases take time from 1-3 years. Around 20% cases take more than 3 years. In most of the cases, the reason behind this delay is adjournment of judicial proceedings on the request from employer side. As a result, a worker who is being terminated from one factory fighting for his/her unpaid wages and other dues and joined in a new factory, by appearing in the Court frequently s/he has to be terminated from new factory also. Thus, labour adjudication system of the country should be made worker-friendly.

4. Delays and backlogs in the labour courts are not only due to the scarcity of courts and inadequate staffing thereof but also because of judges’ aversion to sit in benches regularly and timely. As a general practice, the labour courts tend only to sit for half a day. In some courts, judges sit for less than one hour. In resolving industrial disputes, complaints and some other labour disputes the Labour Court is supposed to be formed with the Chairman and 2 other members. In reality, most of the days members remain absent or one remains present but other does not or when remain/s present used to sit in all types of cases including trial of offences and disputes on payment of wages or compensation which is a clear violation of law. The presence of members should be ensured during disposal of the cases.

5. Disputes between employers and workers are inevitable in industrial relations. Resolving these disputes peacefully, amicably and mutually with keeping working environment intact will result in production, growth, investment, industry and economy of the country. For this, compulsory court sponsored ADR system should be introduced in the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 to reduce inordinate delay and backlogging of labour disputes. At the same time, the existing legal aid scheme of the Labour Courts should be expanded as most of the workers are covered by this scheme.

Imtiaz Ahmed Sajal

LLM Student in International Law at South Asian (SAARC) University, New Delhi, India
Imtiaz Ahmed Sajal is currently pursuing LLM in International Law at South Asian (SAARC) University, New Delhi, India. He serves as an Editor in Chief of the Bangladesh Law Digest (BDLD).
He is more interested to do research on different environmental issues in Bangladesh. He has already written a good number of articles on environment adjudication of Bangladesh and some of them have already been published in various law journals and dailies.

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