BANGLADESH/INTERNATIONAL: Historic May Day: Women and children perspective

Sunday, May 1, 2011
The Financial Express
Southern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights

The historic May Day is being observed in Bangladesh along with the rest of the world today, with the pledge to establish the rights of workers. The day is observed in commemoration of the struggle by workers in Chicago, USA over a century ago to establish the rights of workers to a eight hour working day.

The sacrifice of the workers of Hay Market, USA, forced the world leaders to help establish eight-hour working period for the workers. May Day is also a traditional holiday in many countries.

May Day, which is a celebration of the social and economic

achievements of the international labor movement, sees organised street demonstrations and street marches by millions of working people and their labour unions throughout the world. The working people in the world trace their inspiration to that unique struggle by the Chicago workers that heralded the new age where employers were forced to recognise the basic rights of the workers.

On May 1, 1886, 10 workers were killed when police opened fine on a demonstration in the US city of Chicago near Hay Market demanding an eight rather than a 12 hour or more working day. But that sacrifice ultimately led to the authorities yielding to the workers' demand and the eight-hour working day has come to be introduced universally.

On July 14, 1889 in Paris, an international workers' rally declared May 1 as the International Workers Solidarity Day in recognition of the Chicago workers' sacrifice and achievement and since 1890, the day has been observed globally as the International Workers Solidarity Day.

In Bangladesh, the day is a public holiday. All industries and factories remain closed. Different organisations organise various programmes to mark the day.

In Bangladesh, many workers are non-recognised workers and they are not treated fairly. There is also a huge number of under-age workers, who are deprived not only of education but also of their natural life.

In many industries, the authorities make the labourers work hour after hour without any regard to their rights. Many garments factories do not follow the national wage board. Child labour has become rampant. Many children also work in hazardous jobs like ship-breaking, brick fields and other industries. Everywhere they are deprived.

The female workers also face many problems. They work in insecure conditions. They even have to face sexual harassment. It is alleged that women continue to face discrimination and they dominate the low paying jobs. There are many domestic workers in Bangladesh, 90 per cent of whom are women and children. A large number of domestic workers are facing exploitation in many ways at the hands of their employers.

As the problems of workers persist, the government came forward taking a number of steps for the welfare of workers. The glaring example is the initiative taken for migrant workers, who were stranded in strife-torn Libya recently.

Bangladesh has many labour laws and regulations to protect the rights of workers. Trade union practices providing collective bargaining of workers with their employers are generally allowed in the industries and service sectors. Bangladesh is also a signatory to the International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions.

The labour courts in Bangladesh protect workers' rights by enforcing the existing laws. The constitution of Bangladesh guarantees equal rights for men and women. Hence, legal measures have been adopted to protect the rights of the women workers.

There are labour laws to protect the rights of the workers. These are Factory Act 1965, Workmen Compensation Act 1923, Maternity Benefit Act 1939, Standing Orders for Employment of Labour 1965, Payment of Wage Act 1963, Shop Establishment Act 1965, Employment of Children Act

1938, Maternity Benefit, Tea Estates Acts 1950, Fatal Accidents Act 1955, Minimum Wage Ordinance 1961, Industrial Relations Ordinance 1969, Children (Pledging of Labour) Act 1933 and

Employers' Liability Act 1938.

The government took a number of steps to eradicate child labour and ensure their welfare. A National Policy on Children was adopted by the government.The government also launched National Plan of Action on Child labour, covering all types of hazardous and abusive child labour practices including child trafficking and child prostitution.

Bangladesh is among the first few countries to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and have already taken steps to implement its provisions. The country enacted an important law protecting the interests of the children and their well-being named 'The Children Act-1974.'

The number of women participating in the labour market is gradually increasing in Bangladesh. Traditional family norms and social perspectives have changed due to the economic needs. Steps have also been taken to integrate women in the mainstream of economic development of the country. In the urban area, the garment industry has provided women with access to gainful employment. However, participation of women in the employment markets still remains low.

Some 130 countries including Bangladesh ratified the convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

To increase women's participation in the public sector, the government has taken special measures. It has reserved 60 per cent posts of primary school teachers for women. Restriction on government service for women has been withdrawn and 10 per cent of the gazetted posts and 15 per cent of non-gazetted posts have been reserved for them only to ensure their participation at all levels.

Women are also being inducted into committees of various fields such as women development implementation and evaluation committee and coordination committee at district and thana levels. Women are also being provided training, loan, and technology and employment opportunities. The official steps along with other programmes taken by NGOs are helping to accelerate the uplift of women.

A lot of progress has been made regarding establishing workers' rights in the country. We have to go further, particularly in the areas of women workers and child labour, to honour the spirit of May Day.