A legitimate demand
The demand, raised by construction workers at a rally in Barisal on Sunday, for immediate implementation of the ILO charter, labour act and building construction code is indeed crucial as far as streamlining the sector is concerned. As New Age reported on Monday, the workers who held the rally marking the 22nd founding anniversary and annual general meeting of the Imarat Nirman Sramik Union also demanded immediate enlistment of construction workers alongside issuance of identity cards, complete insurance coverage and rehabilitation facilities for them.
As we commented in these columns on several occasions, the construction sector thriving over the last few decades not only continues to make significant contributions to the gross domestic product in a sustained manner but also directly provides employment to millions of poor and marginalised people across the country, especially in the major cities including the capital Dhaka. Moreover, the sector is highly linked to the industries based on construction materials like cement which also provide employment to thousands more. Meanwhile, while most of the owners of construction sites in different cities still generally make huge money cashing in on, particularly, cheap labour, they are, regrettably though, yet to ensure proper care for the people working in their projects, let alone comply with the national building code. Accidents at different construction sites resulting in deaths of, and injuries to, workers have become almost a regular phenomenon in recent years. Additionally, employers in the sector have the predilection for keeping workers’ wages pending even for months. The less said about compensation—if any—for workers that fall victim to fatality or injury while working here the better.
Unfortunately, successive governments appear to have been unwilling to address these problems. Despite repeated demand on the part of various quarters, including the workers concerned and different rights organisations, the government is yet to extend the legal coverage currently meant for just the organised sectors to this unorganised sector. That apart, different ILO conventions, ratified by the Bangladesh government, concerning labour rights at present do not apply to this sector either. In October 2010, the High Court laid down some directives for the authorities, to streamline the construction sector, implementation of which seems to have gone by default.
The government needs to realise that leaving workers in the lurch, no sector can ensure its sustainability. And it becomes all the more important when the sector like the one in question proves critical for development, economic and social. Hence, it immediately needs to pay heed to the demands mentioned above.
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