Construction worker Delwar Hossain was painting the outer wall of a three-storey building in the Chattogram Road area, on the outskirts of the capital, in 2019. Suddenly, he lost his control and fell off the scaffolding, ending up breaking his hands.
Injured Delwar was admitted to the National Institute of Traumatology and Orthopaedic Rehabilitation (Nitor) but he had little money to pay for his treatment. A relative of Delwar informed him about the Bangladesh Labour Welfare Foundation (BLWF)'s fund and helped him apply for a donation from the organisation. Eventually, he received Tk50,000 from the foundation, which helped him get well.
"I was helpless as I had spent all my savings and the money I had borrowed. But the BLWF's donation brought my smiles back. I cannot express my gratitude to the BLWF authorities in words. I will never forget their contribution," said a grateful Delwar.
Like Delwar, hundreds of workers in the formal and non-formal sectors in the country are getting financial assistance from the BLWF every year when they are in distress.
The foundation provides grants to the working people for their medical treatment and for the study of their children in public universities and medical colleges. Labourers' families also get financial assistance from the foundation after their deaths after workplace accidents.
Farm worker Farid Mia from Netrokona died in an accident in 2016, leaving his wife, three daughters and a son. The family got Tk1,50,000 in grant from the BLWF. Farid's wife Shilpi Akhter has invested the money in a small business in their hometown and is maintaining the family with the profit earned from the business.
"My daughters and son are aged below 12 years. It would have been very difficult for us to stay alive, had we not received the BLWF donation. I am grateful to the government. Actually, the fund is a blessing for us," said Shilpi Akhter.
The labour welfare foundation gives Tk40,000 to a child from a working-class family who studies in a general public university and Tk3 lakh to one studying in an engineering university or a medical college.
According to the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006, companies have to spend 5% of their net profit for the welfare of their workers and 10% of this portion has to be submitted to the BLFW fund.
The government, however, started to provide assistance to labourers and their family members from the fund in the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Sources at the labour and employment ministry say some 226 companies have thus far donated Tk612 crore to the BLWF fund. Of them, Grameenphone alone has given Tk183 crore. Meanwhile, British American Tobacco Ltd, Unilever Bangladesh Ltd, RobiAxiata Limited, and Walton Group have donated Tk70 crore, Tk56 crore, Tk16 crore and Tk14 crore, respectively.
The foundation has thus far provided Tk39.47 crore to 10,640 labourers for treatment purposes, Tk4.68 crore to 1,277 working-class children for their higher education, and Tk5.81 crore to 564 labourers' families after their death.
Nonetheless, many workers are still in the dark about the fund due to a lack of publicity by the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
Sajib and Shanto faced a fatal accident while working in a construction site in Narsingdi district recently. Sajib died in the incident while Shanto has been bedridden as he has broken his backbone. But none of the two families has applied for assistance from the BLWF as they are unaware about this.
Kamal Uddin, a relative of Shato said, Shato was the lone bread-earner in his family and that he cannot work now, the family is in a tremendous financial hardship and treatment of Shanto is also getting hampered.
"We were ignorant about the fund. As we know about it now, we will apply for assistance from the fund," he said.
Abdur Razzak, general secretary of the ImaratNirmanShramik Union Bangladesh, told The Business Standard that they were working for workplace safety, introduction of a pension scheme and rationing system, Tk15 lakh compensation for death, and Tk20 lakh for lifelong injuries.
"Working-class people are mostly uneducated. We sometimes ask them to apply for assistance from the BLWF fund but many of them seldom follow our instructions," he said.
Begum Jebunnesa Karim, director-general of the Bangladesh Labour Welfare Foundation, said, "We expect that all the victim workers will apply to get money from the foundation. We have a lot of money to disburse but we receive very few applications. We have also made a decision to raise awareness among workers about the foundation's facilities."