Compensation eludes workplace deaths
Most construction workers do not belong to any trade union, a must to qualify for workplace accident compensation
- Construction is the second-highest accident-prone labour sector
- The sector employs around 37 lakh workers: daily wages, Tk300-400
- Casualties without trade union membership do not qualify for compensation
- 3-5% workers are in unions: only 3 victims compensated in 2019-20
- Authorities say a legal loophole is depriving workers of compensation
Coming from Bhola, Jahangir Alam had been working as a construction worker on daily wages in the capital for a long time. He fell off an under-construction building in Dhaka's Mirpur area and died after being rushed to a hospital two years ago.
Jahangir's mother Tanbanu Begum approached the local chairman, police station, and labour ministry in Dhaka for compensation. "I heard the government pays Tk2 lakh as compensation. But I haven't got a single penny yet," she told The Business Standard.
Hundreds of construction workers, who die in workplace accidents every year, do not get any compensation like Jahangir.
Labour leaders say the government compensation requires trade union membership, but most unskilled and uneducated construction workers neither have membership nor any contract documents.
According to the Bangladesh Labour Act 2018, if any construction worker is maimed due to workplace accident, he will get Tk2.50 lakh as compensation. The amount for workplace death is Tk2 lakh.
State-owned Bangladesh Sramik Kalyan Foundation will pay the compensation.
According to a survey by the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), there are about 37 lakh construction workers across the country.
The institute says the transport sector has the highest workplace casualties in Bangladesh. Construction sector has the second highest workplace fatalities followed by the transport sector.
From 2002 to August 2020, 1,745 construction workers died in workplace accidents.
According to BILS, lack of modern construction equipment, poor construction platforms, helmets, gloves, and not using good quality boots, contribute to the fatality tally.
According to the Bangladesh Sramik Kalyan Foundation, 134 construction workers died in workplace mishaps in 2019-20. Of them, the families of three slain workers got Tk 25,000 each as compensation.
That year, the foundation did not provide compensation to any injured or paralysed worker.
Labour leader Abul Hossain said most construction workers are uneducated and they work on a daily contract basis.
"There is no specific law to protect them. If a worker is injured or killed, it is not possible to get compensation from the employer in most cases."
Since compensation from the Bangladesh Sramik Kalyan Foundation requires trade union membership, most construction accidents go uncompensated, he added.
AB Siddique Mintu, joint general secretary of the Bangladesh Sramik League, said there are two trade unions that work with construction workers. Only 3-5% of all construction workers are affiliated with trade unions.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 85% of the country's workers are from the informal sector.
Mintu says, "Under current labour law, 80% of workers are deprived of their rights while the most disadvantaged are the informal construction workers."
Abdur Razzak, general secretary of the Imarat Nirman Shramik Union Bangladesh, said they have been advocating for workplace safety, introduction of a pension scheme and rationing system, Tk15 lakh compensation for death, and Tk20 lakh for lifelong injuries.
Contacted, State Minister for Labour and Employment, Begum Monnujan Sufian, said construction workers get fewer facilities as they are not organised and the sector is mostly made up of informal workers.
Monnujan said the government introduced a group insurance system for workers in 2013, but the initiative did not succeed.
"Construction sector workers need a separate law. I will request the prime minister in this regard," she added.
Shakila Zerin Ahmed, director (Additional) of the Shramik Kalyan Foundation, said they compensate both institutional and non-institutional workers in the sector.
"In most cases, construction workers cannot show contract papers as they are not organised," she added.