Time to work for workers

To many of us May Day is nothing but another holiday. But we should not forget that people someday fought and sacrificed their lives for dignities and rights we enjoy today, writes Samia Sultana Lira.


When I was younger, we had a domestic worker to look after me as my working mom was at work during the day. She would cook for me, feed me and I would keep holding the corner of her dress all the time. And on the leisurely afternoon, I would go out with her; she would carry me around and hold me close to her. We would call her ‘Robi’r maa (Roabi’s mother), named after her son Robi. Time passed. I grew up and started school. I know longer needed Robi’r ma, she did not have any work in our house and she went for another house to work.

After several months she came to visit me. I didn’t know the reason why her ever-smiling face looked so dim, but I knew for sure that she was not doing well. What might be the case? Maybe she was not treated well in the new workplace. May be she was mistreated. Scolding or even worse, physically assaulted. Or was she facing sexual harassment? Who knows!

May-day-mindspeakThere are numerous domestic workers who are being abused and exploited everyday but who are there to hear their story! They are with us in every single household — from bringing a glass of water to responsible duties like raising your child! But when it comes to telling their story, who cares about a person with no money? Their emotional and physical labour is invested in all our useful chores in every step, but they are the ones who are treated as powerless and weak. We forget that they have left their own child home while looking after our child.

A well-dressed well-educated person with good accent slaps an old aged rickshaw-puller calling him ‘chotolok’ with several other slangs while bargaining about the fare. A teenage waiter gets scolded while serving because of a silly unintentional mistake. You forget without the rickshaw puller you couldn’t come to work timely. The rickshaw puller may be poor, but his sweat of brow is the reason which makes your path faster and easier. Please consider one more time before acting like this. Does that suited-booted man slap his own old father too? Before beating the boy to death remember the face of your younger brother. A mistake of a hotel boy can’t be lethal, right?

A large segment of our labourers, the garment workers are earning less than 10 per cent of our total income without even knowing what they worth. They are the one that we have a flourishing economy, the economy that allowed you a well-to-do life. However, they work in an unsafe workplace without any fire-extinguishing measures, fire exit. The buildings are structurally faulty; it crumbles and collapses on them. Tazreen fire and Rana Plaza collapse proves this point.

They can’t even raise a voice for their right. They will lose their job. If we look at mortality rate in workplace transport workers and construction workers are the ones facing highest fatality. You may say drivers themselves are reasons for their death as they drive recklessly. Well, who can drive properly at a stretch more than 15 hours a day? They are people like us, not machine! They need rest but rest can’t bring money. Who wants to see his child or old mother starving?

Some days ago a worker died of electrical shock in an under construction building. More than once construction workers had died at Mouchak-Malibagh flyover construction. Where’s ‘authority’? Maybe these lives have no value!

In construction and agricultural field female workers are paid less in spite of doing equal duty. Why? Because they are ‘female!’ Then, there are tea workers. Story of their oppression goes back to British period when they were brought here from India to Bangladesh and were forced to work in tea garden. They are here for nearly a century now, yet they can’t own any land because the lands are in the hands of ‘educated’ and powerful tea garden owners. They lack well-education, so they’ve no choice other than working at tea-garden. Tea workers and their children don’t have good schooling. It’s a vicious circle of enslavement!

We shouldn’t forget about expatriate workers who add remittances in our economy by sacrificing their family and social life in Bangladesh and flying to a foreign land. They deserve at least security in a foreign land. We don’t want them to return in coffins. Though child labour declined in formal sector, child worker abuse is still not uncommon. The tragic end of Rajon and Rakib is a testament to this fact.

The Domestic Workers Protection Welfare Policy 2015 is a promising step, but could it erase tears of Robi’r ma, who came to workplace leaving her little son home? Can law give the injured Shewly Begum employment so that she can see her daughter in school uniform rather than sending daughter to find work? Is compensation from government enough for a family with huge treatment costs? Can bus driver in Dhaka city find a restroom and at the same time enough wage to support family to take a break from restless driving?

How much of do we care for the number of dead workers in construction in this corporate system where profit means everything? Who’s here to know the story of a garment worker? How can we ignore those who contribute a lot in the economy flying abroad?

It’s high time to ensure rightful wages, safe and hygienic work environment, and festival bonus, insurance coverage, end of service benefit, social protection. It’s time to work for workers.


Samia Sultana Lira is a student of University of Dhaka


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