Law is a system of rules and guidelines, usually enforced through a set of institutions. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. The Legal system varies from country to country around the world. Today the legal systems of different countries are mostly based on the three basic systems. There are civil law, common law and religious law. Some of the countries also use more than one system in their judicial system. A definition of the legal system can be “Legal regimen of a country consisting of
(1) a written or oral constitution,
(2) primary legislation (statutes) enacted by the legislative body established by the constitution,
(3)subsidiary legislation (bylaws) made by person or bodies authorized by the primary legislation to do so,
(4) customs applied by the courts on the basis of traditional practices, and
(5) principles or practices of civil, common, Roman, or other code of law.”
Civil law is a legal system inspired by Roman law, the primary feature of which is that laws are written into a collection, codified, and not (as in common law) determined by judges . It is the most widespread system of law around the world. Countries that’s judicial system is based on civil law are Brazil, Bulgaria, People’s Republic of China, Congo, Chile, Cuba, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, Ecuador, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Italy, Hungary, Iceland, Japan .
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action. A “common law system” is a legal system that gives great precedential weight to common law, on the principle that it is unfair to treat similar facts differently on different occasions. Common law is currently in practice in Ireland, most of the United Kingdom(England and Wales and Northern Ireland), Australia, India (excluding Goa), Pakistan, South Africa, Canada(excluding Quebec), Hong Kong, the United States (excluding Louisiana) and many other places.
The Law of Bangladesh is primarily in accordance with the English legal system although since 1947, the legal scenario and the laws of Bangladesh have drifted far from the West owing to differences in socio-cultural values and religious guidelines. In November 2007, Bangladesh has successfully separated the Judiciary from the Executive but several black laws still influence the rulers in creating Special Tribunals in using several black laws.
The Judiciary of Bangladesh
The Judiciary of Bangladesh consists of a Supreme Court, subordinate courts and tribunals.
The Supreme Court of Bangladesh has two divisions, the Appellate Division and the High Court Division. It is the apex Court of the country and other Courts and Tribunals are subordinate to it.
The Appellate Division
The Appellate Division hears and determines appeals from judgments, decrees, orders or sentences of the High Court Division. It has rule making power for regulating the practice and procedure of each division and of any Court subordinate to it.
The High Court Division
The High Court Division is for all practical purposes. It is an independent court with its powers, functions and jurisdictions well defined and determined under the Constitution and different laws. It has both appellate as well as original jurisdiction. It hears appeals from orders, decrees and judgments of subordinate courts and tribunals. It has original jurisdiction to hear Writ Applications under article 102 of the Constitution, which is known as extra ordinary constitutional jurisdiction. The High Court Division has superintendence and control over all Courts and tribunals subordinate to it.
The Subordinate Courts and Tribunals
There are a wide variety of subordinate courts and tribunals. Such courts and tribunals are created by some relevant statutes. All their powers, functions and jurisdictions are well determined by the respective statutes. These are the basic courts in the system of the judiciary of Bangladesh. The major bulk of the cases, both civil and criminal, are tried and heard in such courts and tribunals. The subordinate courts in Bangladesh can be divided in two broad classes, namely, civil courts and criminal courts.
The civil courts are created under the Civil Courts Act of 1887. The Act provides for five tiers of civil courts in a district, which are i) Court of Assistant Judge, ii) Court of Senior Assistant Judge, iii) Court of Joint District Judge, iv) Court of Additional District Judge and v) Court of District Judge.
The Criminal Courts are i) Courts of Sessions, ii) Courts of Metropolitan Sessions, iii) Special courts/tribunals (Criminal), iv) Courts of Metropolitan Magistrate, v) Courts of Magistrate.
Labour Laws of Bangladesh
Labour laws in Bangladesh are based with a number of legislations act beginning from the year 1881. The Factories Act 1881 was the basis of all labour and industrial laws of the country . The Factories Act 1965 was promulgated incorporating some provisions of the ILO conventions. The Act of 1965 applies to manufacturing establishments employing ten or more persons with or without the aid of any mechanical power. It makes provision for safety, health and hygiene of the workers and special provision for women and juvenile workers. It also prohibits child labour. It limits work of a child in factories, including the seasonal ones. For extra work by a worker beyond normal hours, payment is to be made at double the ordinary wage. The periods of adult workers shall be so fixed that either no worker shall work for more than six hours continuously before he has had an interval (for rest) of at least one hour, or for more than five hours without a rest interval of at least half an hour or for more. The periods of work along with rest interval shall spread over more than ten and a half hours in perennial factories and eleven and a half hours in seasonal factories. One weekly holiday is to be granted to all workers. The act also provides for leaves and holidays.
The workers to whom the Factories Act of 1965 does not apply are covered by the Shops and Establishment Act 1965. It also makes provision for cleanliness, fixes working hours, extra payment for overtime work, and special provision for women and juvenile workers. Children workers under the age of 12 cannot be employed under this Act. More specifically, under this Act the working hours in shops or commercial or industrial establishments or establishments for public entertainment/amusement are limited to nine per day and fifty one per week. Overtime work up to one hundred and twenty hours in a year is permissible which is to be paid for at double the ordinary rates. No worker is to work for more than five hours in a day without a rest interval. The Act provides for one and a half-holiday with pay each week.
Under the Mines Act 1923 which applies to workers employed in mines, the hours of work for persons employed on surface are limited to ten per day and fifty four per week. The periods of work including rest interval shall not spread over more than 12 hours in any day.
Under the Motor Vehicles Ordinance of 1983, the hours of work of drivers of motor vehicle are limited to fifty-four hours a week and nine hours a day. Exceptions may be granted in certain cases. A rest interval of at least half-an-hour is prescribed for five hours of work.
The Weekly Holidays Act of 1942 prescribes one paid holiday a week for persons employed in any shop, restaurant or theatre. Under the Factories Act, 1965 workers employed in factories are entitled after one year of service to ten consecutive paid holidays in the case of adults and fourteen in the case of children. Workers in mines are not entitled to annual holidays.
Violations of labour rights
Section 93 of the Factories Act 1965, stated that unless otherwise provided, the maximum fine for all contraventions was tk 1000 with a further fine of tk 75 for every additional day of contravention. Now for certain offences, the maximum fines are considerably higher.
Violations resulting in deaths, GBH or other harm (section 309): These offences involving death or injury are new offences.
Any person who violates any provision of the code that:
- results in death, that person can be sentenced up to four years imprisonment or with a fine of up to 1 lakh taka
- results in ‘grievous bodily harm”, can be sentenced to two years imprisonment or a fine of up to 10,000 taka or both.
- Results in any other harm to a worker or other person or causes any other danger, he can be sentenced to six months imprisonment or a fine of upto 2,000 taka.
Labour force of Bangladesh
Because of the rapid growth of the population in the last few decades the Bangladeshi labor force has grown rapidly. According to the EIU Country Profile the Bangladeshi labor force almost quadrupled in a matter of two decade, growing from 38.9 million people in 1990-91 to 146.0 million people in 2006-07. Although all sectors of the national economy experienced significant growth, they were far below the speed of the labor force growth. According to Bangladeshi national statistics, in 2006-07 only 38.4 percent of the labor force had formal employment, while 14.1 percent were considered “employed in family-based” businesses, 29.6 percent were considered “self-employed,” and 17.9 percent had their jobs on a “daily basis.”
The very low wages, starting from Tk1,500, and harsh working conditions drive large numbers of people to seek jobs as temporary workers in Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emi-rates. According to some unofficial estimates there are as many as 60 million Bangladeshi illegal immigrants in neighboring India. Many are hired to work in the low-skill and low-wages construction and service sectors and on agricultural plantations. The workers’ remittances, sent home regularly, are one of the most important sources of hard currency not only for the extended families of these workers, but also for the national economy as well.
Labour Unrests in Bangladesh
But because of this low wages rate there has been labour unrest present in the country for decades. From the newspaper The Independent of Dhaka, Monday 14 July 1997 we understand that from the workforce of the Youngone factory in the Dhaka Export Processing Zone, 9 workers are in jail, 300 are injured, 97 terminated from their job and cases are issued against 800 of the workers. This happed in reaction to the demand by the workers for the release of two of their colleagues who had been arrested earlier this week and the statement of an 11 point demand. Before the workers got the chance even to make their demands clear they were attacked by a huge police force. Fifty workers were severely injured by police violence.
From 22 June, 2010 All the 200 garment factories at a mega industrial belt Ashulia on the outskirts of capital Dhaka closed for an indefinite period from Tuesday following workers’ unrest over wage hike. More than 100 people, including about a dozen of policemen were injured and 20-25 vehicles were smashed in workers’ unrest since Monday at Ashulia. The clashes erupted on Monday morning when police charged into several thousand garment workers staging demonstrations for the third consecutive day demanding a minimum monthly wage of 5,000 taka (71.43 U.S. dollars).
However, labor unrest in the country’s apparel industry, contributing over 75 percent of the total export earning, took place frequently in recent years over unpaid wages and overtime.
On July 29, 2010, the government announced the minimum salary structure for around 3.5 million RMG workers in the country hoping to put an end to the longstanding labour unrest over wages. The minimum salary at the entry level has been fixed at Tk 3,000 (US$43.07): Tk 2,000 in basic pay, Tk 800 in house rent and Tk 200 in medical allowance. The apprentice level wage is fixed at Tk 2,500, up from Tk 1,200 now. The new wage structure will come to effect from November 1, 2010. Garment worker leaders, however, expressed disappointment over the new pay scale as they have been bargaining for Tk 5,000 for years.
Accidents and consequences
There are also many accidents taking place as well. A report published in BangladeshToday on Feb 8th, 2009 said “At least five people were killed and 50 garment workers injured in separate road accidents in Chittagong and Laxmipur yesterday” . A total of 264 garment workers died so far in different fire accident in the garment sector from the year 1990 to 2010. On the other hand, more than 295 workers also sustained burn injuries from those incidents during the said period. However, a total of 188 garment units in Dhaka and Chittagong region had faced fire incidents during the period. The inferno in Ha-Meem Group factory, a 10-story building owned by a local garment giant, located at the Ashulia industrial zone, killed at least 26 workers and injured more than 100.
On February 25, 2010, a fire at Garib & Garib Ltd, an export-oriented sweater factory in Savar, killed 21 workers and injured dozens. The most devastating fire broke out in KTS Textile Industries Limited in Chittagong on February 23, 2006, when a total of 67 workers were killed in the tragic incident. However, a total of 168 fire incidents happened in RMG units from 1990 to October, 2009. The number of the deceased recorded to be 222 in 19 factories. Besides, 10 fire incidents also took place in 2009, six in 2008 and it was 14 in 2007, but no casualties had been reported from those accidents. One garment factory blazed in 1990, three in 1995, one in 1996, six in 1997, four in 1998, 16 in 1999, 19 in 2000, 23 in 2001, 09 in 2002, 15 in 2003, 16 in 2004, nine in 2005, 15 in 2006 and four fire incidents were recorded till 2010, according to a survey conducted by the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). BGMEA had conducted the survey under its fire safety crush programs to find out the reasons for the fire accidents.
The survey recorded 47 fire incidents from 2006 to January 2010. Of the total, 10 took place due to electric short circuits.
But the organization could not find any clues to other 37 incidents and termed those as “unknown reasons.”However, labour rights groups said inadequate safety standards in many factories, lack of proper training to the RMG workers and shortage of manpower and equipment of the fire service department are the main causes of the repeated fire incidents in garment sector. Besides, most of the owners were also reluctant to follow the safety standards and unwilling to install adequate fire fighting equipments, they alleged. “Even, we were not clear what caused the blaze, although the government ordered investigations after such incidents. Those were generally believed to be accidents, but we thought it could be arson,” BGMA spokesperson said.
From all these it is clear that the labour laws and enforcements of Bangladesh is no way near adequate to protect the rights of the labours. But the since the industry and growing more and more and people are getting aware of the situation, the overall situation is improving in some sense. The new Labour Law 2006 and the Labour Law (amendment) 2010 does cover a lot of areas of the protection of labours rights in this country. But now the improvement is needed in the enforcement of these laws. The right enforcement of these laws can make a big difference, rather than creating a new law and not having the proper enforcement of it.