The Aspects of Labor Strikes in Bangladesh

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The Aspects of Labor Strikes in Bangladesh

In the light of “The Industrial Relations Ordinance (IRO), 1969”


Our social life is subject to numerous laws. Law is an important part of social structure that regulates our social life. There are numerous laws – some regulates our social behavior and some are to regulate the behavior of organization. Again there are some provisions of law to ensure the right of the worker. As the worker is always deprived of their right, this provision has given the opportunity of this deprived section to enjoy their right. Due to the opportunity to form an organization of their own, the labor has got the opportunity to speak of their problem. Now they are in a position to bargain with the management and other regulative authority. They can jointly fight to save their right. Strike is one form of demonstrations all the workers can do rather than trade union, collective bargaining, negotiation, lock out etc. Strike is one of the important sections of “The Industrial Relations Ordinance (IRO), 1969.” The nature of strikes varies due to the nature of the industry they exist. The role and objective also differ substantially due to changing working condition and very nature of the business.

Historical Background of Strike

The strike tactic has a very long history. Towards the end of the 20th dynasty, under Pharaoh Ramses[1] III in ancient Egypt in the 12th century BCE, the workers of the royal necropolis organized the first known strike or worker’s uprising in the history. The event was reported in detail on a Papyrus at that time, which has been preserved and currently located in Turin.

Strikes first became important during the industrial revolution[2], when mass labour became important in factories and mines. In most countries they were quickly made illegal as factory owners had far more political power than the workers. Most western countries legalized striking partially in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

In Communist regimes such as the former USSR, striking was illegal and viewed as counter-revolutionary. It is also illegal for an employee of the United States Federal Government to strike. President Ronald Reagan terminated air traffic controllers after their refusal to return to work from an illegal strike in 1981[3].

Since the government in such systems was meant to represent the working class it was claimed that unions and strikes were not necessary. Most other totalitarian systems also ban strikes. In some democratic countries like Mexico, strikes are legal but subject to close regulation by the state.

Notable General Strikes

  • 1820 Rising in Scotland[4]
  • Russian Revolution of 1905[5]
  • 1912 Brisbane General Strike[6]
  • Winnipeg General Strike of 1919[7]
  • Seattle General Strike of 1919[8]
  • British General Strike of 1926[9]
  • San Francisco general strike of 1934[10]
  • Toledo General Strike of 1934[11]
  • Great Arab Revolt of 1936 [12]
  • French general strike of May 1968[13]
  • Uruguay general strike of 1973[14]
  • Northern Ireland general strike of May 1974[15]
  • Spanish general strike of 1988[16]
  • Italian general strike of 2002[17]
  • Venezuelan general strike of 2002-2003[18]

· Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of 2004[19]

Notable Strikes in Bangladesh from 1950 – 2004

Bangladesh is also famous for having general strikes. Some have small impact on economy an some have large impact. Sometime a strike is called for higher payment of minimum wages and for privatization of state owned mills and factories. On July 30, 1997[20]– such strike was called where more than 3000 protesters were gathered to raise their voices against all the disputes.

The following table shows the numbers of strike are held and days lost because of those strikes from 1950 to 2004 in Bangladesh.

The year 1957 and 1964 have the highest number of strikes before the independence of Bangladesh. At that time on an average of 2174615 days were lost because of those strikes occurred. But surprisingly, instead of getting low rate of occurring strikes in the country, in year 1981 and in 1984, there were more strikes happening in the country along with continuation from previous years. But after all those years the rate of occurring general strikes in our country have become less and less which shows an improvement in year 1997 with zero rate of strike occurring in the country

Table 1: Number of Strike and days lost from 1950 – 2004 in Bangladesh

Year Continued strike from last year Number of new strike Number of solved strike Number of labors involved in strike Number of days lost
1950 20 20 7972 40381
1951 23 23 11328 35792
1952 55 55 21174 75624
1953 55 55 34006 116080
1954 31 31 19738 90556
1955 25 25 16221 38140
1956 64 64 82261 273632
1957 71 71 115249 693167
1958 51 51 45903 152351
1959 7 7 22488 35482
1960 12 12 6086 17947
1961 10 10 4464 5486
1962 31 31 16949 85248
1963 54 54 102198 938093
1964 72 72 158614 3787357
1965 55 55 63707 236805
1966 60 60 78278 231180
1967 48 48 66391 605222
1968 30 30 56309 154840
1969 55 55 113114 561874
1971 9 9 35324 70333
1972 39 39 43615 126000
1973 58 58 35027 285177
1974 32 32 57387 231736
1975 2 2 28327 162000
1976 5 5 14517 25618
Year Continued strike from last year Number of new strike Number of solved strike Number of labors involved in strike Number of days lost
1977 22 22 76675 81715
1978 89 89 113209 662332
1979 96 96 114248 647629
1980 104 104 168032 1160436
1981 2 121 123 117031 1198460
1982 43 12 55 21788 238658
1983 16 16 175787 392616
1984 142 142 481004 1144817
1985 95 95 198118 184920
1986 23 23 46 105977 2079671
1987 18 18 88795 175278
1988 9 9 28878 49398
1989 16 16 60513 85395
1990 5 5 14554 28479
1991 3 3 454 29811
1992 11 11 6190 29741
1993 11 11 6101 16029
1994 2 2 541 2821
1995 5 5 24656 75023
1996 1 0 1 353 7766
1997 0 0 0 0
1998 1 1 6490 6490
1999 4 4 22957 19780
2000 4 4 16977 33954
2001 3 3 16611 16611
2002 5 5 27897 29772
2003 4 4 29883 19649
2004 6 6 31057 44708

Source: Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies

Definition of Strike

Strike is carried out by a group of employees, for the purpose either of enforcing demands relating to employment conditions on their employer or of protesting unfair labor practices. In Europe and Asia, strikes have sometimes been called for political purposes. Strikes are conducted most frequently by workers organized into trade unions. A sympathy strike occurs when a union stops work to support the strike of another union[21].

General definition

Strike is the mass refusal by employees to perform work due to certain grievances. If an agreement could not be reached, workers could strike, or refuse to work until certain demands were met[22].

A strike may consist of workers refusing to attend work or picketing outside the workplace so as to prevent or dissuade other people from working in their place or conducting business with their employer. Or, a strike may consist of workers attending or occupying the workplace, but refusing to do their jobs or leave. Strikes may be specific to a particular workplace, employer, or unit within a workplace, or they may encompass an entire industry, or every worker within a city or country.

Definition as per IRO, 1969

‘Strike’ means a cessation of work by a body of persons employed in establishment acting in combination or concerted refusal, or refusal under a common understanding of any number of persons who are or have been so employed to continue to work or to accept employment.

Definition of illegal strike as per IRO, 1969

‘Illegal’ strike means a strike declared, commenced or continued otherwise than in accordance with the provisions of this ordinance.

When a Strike is not a Strike

A “strike” is defined in section 25 of the Industrial Relation Ordinance (IRO) 1969 as any concerted stoppage of work. There are two questions. What is a ‘stoppage of work’ and what is ‘concerted’. The Labor Court said that concerted means mutually planned and that any refusal to work, if mutually planned, will be within the definition of a strike. A strike is a case where an employee refuses to work for a period of time for which he or she is employed to work.

But some methods of conducting a strike are not protected. For example, employees may not stage a “sit-in” in which they take over the employer’s premises and refuse to admit others.

Deliberate slowdowns are also unprotected, as are concerted refusals to work overtime. Picket line violence is another unprotected form of strike activity, and the employer may lawfully discharge (i.e., refuse to reinstate) strikers who assault nonstrikers, or who maliciously destroy property. Minor misconduct, however, will not justify a refusal to re-employ.

A strike may also be unprotected because its objectives are illegal. For example, a strike to force an employer to accept midterm modification of a valid collective bargaining agreement is not protected under the Act[23].

A union may contractually waive its right to strike in a collective bargaining agreement. Even where the contract does not contain an express no-strike clause, such a promise may be implied quid pro quo for an arbitration provision.

A no-strike clause is generally assumed to prohibit only economic strikes, but a union may also waive its right to strike in protest of unfair labor practices if it does so explicitly.

Types of Strike

Most strikes involve actions by labor unions during collective bargaining with an employer. Generally, such actions are rare. According to the News Media Guild, 98%[24] of union contracts are settled each year without a strike.

General Strike

A general strike is a strike action by an entire labour force in a city, region or country. In the late 19th century, the growing international labour movements advocated general strikes for industrial or political purposes.

General strikes are effective because of the wide-reaching disruption they cause. Few official services continue to run in a general strike because other workers will often appeal to other strikers and labour organizations to join the strike.

A large-scale strike, like a general strike, requires a high level of labour organization. Often a galvanizing motive like widespread economic hardship or social unrest is necessary to provoke one. This philosophy was favored especially in the early twentieth century. General strikes were frequent in Spain during the early twentieth century, where revolutionary anarcho-syndicalism was most popular. The biggest general strike in recent European history – in fact the first general wild strike ever – was May 68 in France[25].

Wild-cat Strike

If a strike takes place against the will of the leadership of the union, or without a union, it’s known as a wildcat strike. In many countries, wildcat strikes do not enjoy the same legal protections as standard union strikes, and may result in penalties for the union whose members participate. The same often applies in the case of strikes conducted without an official ballot of the union membership, as required in some countries like the United Kingdom.

Sit-down Strike

A strike may consist of workers refusing to attend work or picketing outside the workplace so as to prevent or dissuade other people from working in their place or conducting business with their employer. Less frequently workers may occupy the workplace, but refuse either to do their jobs or to leave.

Sympathy Strike

A sympathy strike is, in a way, a small scale version of a general strike in which one group of workers refuses to cross a picket line established by another as a means of supporting the striking workers. This strike is initiated by workers in one industry and supported by workers in a separate but related industry.

Jurisdictional Strike

A jurisdictional strike Jurisdictional strike is a concept in United States labor law that refers to a concerted refusal to work undertaken by a union to assert its member’s right to particular job assignments and to protest the assignment of disputed work to members of another union or to unorganized workers.

Work-to-rule Strike

A work-to-rule, in which workers perform their tasks exactly as they are required to but no better. For example, workers might follow all safety regulations in such a way that it impedes their productivity, or they might refuse to work any overtime.

Such strikes may in some cases be a form of “partial strike” or “slowdown”, which is “unprotected” in some circumstances under United States labor law, meaning that while the tactic itself is not unlawful, the employer may fire the employees who engage in it.

Japanese Strike

A Japanese strike on the contrary has the workers maximizing their output. They are nominally working as usual but the surplus can break the planning, especially in just-in-time systems.

Green Ban

During the development boom of the 1970s in Australia the Green ban was developed by certain socially more conscious unions. This is a form of strike action taken by a trade union or other organized labor group for environmentalist or conservationist purposes.

Black Ban

Strike action taken against a particular job or employer in order to protect the economic interests of the strikers.

Student Strike

A student strike has the students (sometimes supported by faculty) not attending schools. Unlike other strikes, the target of the protest (the educational institution or the government) does not suffer a direct economical loss but one of public image.

Hunger Strike

A Hunger strike is the voluntary refusal to eat. Hunger strikes are often used in prisons as a form of political protest. Like student strikes, a hunger strike aims to worsen the public image of the target.

Strategy for Strike

Labour strikes are often strengthened by adopting various strategies. Some of the strategies are found to be very effective as follows-


Go-slow means an organized ,deliberate and purposeful slowing down of normal output of work by a body of workers in a concerted manner, and which is not due to the mechanical defect ,breakdown of machinery, failure or defect in power supply or in the supply of normal material and spare parts of machinery.

Conducting procession

Processions are an effective way to raise demands. Most of the times workers are seen to conduct procession to earn their demands. It can be done in both small and large scale depending in which industry it is being done.

Distributing leaflets

Whenever workers are looking for mass support, distributing leaflets is one of the most effective ways. It informs public about the reason of strike. Sometimes it helps in earning public support thus success becomes easier.

Road block

A worker sometimes blocks important roads and makes the strike stronger. This strategy is most helpful in case of transportation strikes.

Besieging factory

Besieging the factory is one of the basic strategies of strike. It enables the workers to restrict others entry to the factory.

Detaining management representative

Labors often detain representative of the management to make sure that their voice is hard. It causes severe distraction to the management and immediate consideration of the workers’ demands.

Wearing Badges

Workers sometimes wear badges at their work place or at other times to protest any decision taken by management.

Hunger Strike

It is the ultimate strategy to make the decision making authority to fulfill workers’ demands. Sometimes symbolic hunger strike is also conducted. Causes of Strike

The general causes of strike are as follows-

Lay off

Lay off decisions often make workers to call on a strike.

Wage increase

Demand for increasing wage is another reason for strike.

Proper working condition

Workers are sometimes found to do strike demanding a proper working environment.

Management decision

Decisions taken by management that is not friendly for workers or might cause any harm to the workers may lead to a strike. It includes shutting down the factory; lay off, salary decrease, seasonal work, hiring unskilled labors etc.

Government decision

Sometimes government decision regarding the industry might cause strike. Government’s decision for shutting down a factory, arresting any labour leader, changing Labour laws etc can lead to such situation. For example, government decision of arresting a transportation worker leader causes a nationwide transportation strike from November 21, 2005 to November 22, 2005.

Managing a Strike

The most important aspect of managing an economic strike is to prevent it from becoming an unfair labor practices strike. The issue of communications with union members, for instance, is rife with rules that can ensnare the unknowing small business owner. These communication rules apply both to the pre-strike and strike periods. Following are the specific guidelines that small businesses should adhere in negotiating with the union members.

Bargain in good faith

Everybody should continue to bargain in good faith throughout the process. Because both sides have a continuing responsibility to engage in good faith collective bargaining, which means that one must meet with the union with the intent of reaching an agreement about the workers’ demands. Failure to do so also could convert the nature of a strike.

Provide legal information

Provide unions with all information to which they are legally entitled. Under U.S. labor law, unions can request information about management’s plans regarding various operational aspects of the business during the strike. For example, the union can ask for information about where the business plans to get replacement workers and the wages that they will be paid[26].

Know management rights

Many legal protections are in place to protect workers from unfair management practices, but business owners have rights, too. Businesses can discuss and clarify with striking employees how their proposal differs from that of the union leadership, and they can ask employees to vote to accept the final offer when it’s presented for ratification.

Many strike situations also give them the option of utilizing replacement workers without penalty. Nonetheless, businesses should be aware that there are many legal “do’s and don’ts” associated with management-union interactions during collective bargaining and strike periods, and they should make sure that they have adequate legal representation to assist them in this area.

Use replacement workers

Sometimes the management of establishments on strike hires workers to do the jobs of the workers on strike. The new workers are known as replacement workers. They are also known as scabs, or scab labor, or strike-breakers. Unionists use the epithet “scab” to refer to workers who are willing to accept terms that union workers have rejected.

The hiring of replacement workers can complicate the estimation of a strike’s impact. If replacement workers are hired immediately, then the strike will not be reflected at all in economic data. Furthermore, if replacement workers are hired later during the course of an ongoing strike, their presence may falsely indicate that the strike is over even if it is not. To further complicate matters, replacement workers could permanently displace the strikers, or they could instead be just a temporary solution and be laid off when the strike ends.

Ban of strike in specific professions

People in certain professions, particularly those regarded as critical to society, are sometimes prohibited by law from striking. Police, firefighters, and air traffic controllers are among the groups sometimes affected. Occasionally, people in these professions will try to circumvent strike restrictions, such as by falsely claiming inability to work due to illness – this is sometimes called a “sickout”. The term “blue flu” has sometimes been used to describe this action when taken by police officers.

Lockout of factory

The counterpart to a strike is a lockout, in which an employer refuses to allow employees to work. Two of the three employers involved in the Caravan park grocery workers strike of 2003-2004 locked out their employees in response to a strike against the third member of the employer bargaining group.

Strategy for managing possible threat of strike suggested by Management Support System

Management Support Services (MSS) is a Northwest Indiana based crisis management firm specializing in work stoppage preparations and strategy on a nationwide basis. As strike management specialists, MSS has discreetly and confidentially helped more than 900 companies, ranging from major Fortune 500 corporations to leading mid-size and small privately-held firms face the specter of strike preparedness with confidence and knowledge that if one occurs, management can still maintain operations. The focus of our total strike management services center on the following three interrelated steps:

Step 1: Preparation of a comprehensive Work Stoppage Strategy & Planning Manual which is written to meet specific operational needs. Depending on the size of organization, including “how to” counter the “Union Corporate Campaign-Inside Game” strategy.

Step 2: Provide the necessary technical assistance for arranging food and lodging services, specialized strike-trained security guards to augment existing plant protection force and all types of temporary replacement workers.

Step 3: Provide an on-site representative to implement and coordinate all Strike Plan activities should a work stoppage actually occur.

Labor strikes often and unnecessarily cost companies millions. Inadequate strike preparedness is usually the cause[27].

Impact of Strike on Bangladesh Economy

A strike can have various impacts on employment, average weekly hours, and average hourly earnings. Further, if the company affected by the work stoppage has weekly hours or hourly earnings that differ significantly from the industry average, the strike can have a large impact on average weekly hours or hourly earnings for the industry. Similarly, if the industry involved in the strike has hours and earnings that differ significantly from higher level aggregates, the strike can have an impact on the higher level estimates of average hours or hourly earnings.

Change in the number of persons employed

While determining the number of persons on payroll, those actually getting paid for work or for leave that occurred during the strike are counted. Thus, persons on strike for the entire period are not counted as employed, because they are not on the payroll. This increases the number of unemployed persons in a particular period.

The growth in employment over the month

The growth in employment over the month is affected by the number of strikers. The employees on strike cause a negative growth in the employment growth indicator.

Effects on hours and earnings estimates

Strikes also affect estimates of workers’ average weekly hours and average hourly earnings. These are hours for which production workers either are paid for work or are on paid leave (including paid vacation, holidays, sick leave, or other paid leave) for the reference pay period.

When workers are on strike for an entire pay period, their hours and earnings can be affected in two ways-

Within industry effects

For the specific industry involved in the strike, estimates are affected only if the hours or earnings of the persons on strike or layoff differ significantly from the industry’s average hours or earnings. The impact is phased in slowly over the months the strike continues.

Sum across industry effects

The absence of persons on strike or layoff from payrolls may affect average weekly hours or average hourly earnings at higher levels of industry aggregation. If workers in the specific industry involved in the strike work shorter hours or earn less than workers in other industries in the aggregation, the hours and earnings estimates for the aggregation will be higher. Conversely, if workers in the specific industry involved in the strike work longer hours or earn more than workers in other industries in the aggregation, the hours and earnings estimates for the aggregation will be lower.

Impact on establishment dependent on the striking establishment

Among the potential secondary effects of a strike is that on establishments which are not on strike, but are dependent on the striking establishment. Competitors taking over market

Another secondary strike effect occurs when competitors of a striking firm add employees to cover additional business foregone by the striking company[28].


An employee strike is an episode wherein a company’s work force engages in a work stoppage in an effort to elicit changes from its employer in such areas as wages, benefits, job security, and management practices. The beginning of an employee strike is almost always a difficult period for the business owners.

The adversarial nature of such actions can be jarring for company leaders who are unfamiliar with strikes, and the walk-out itself can threaten small-and midsized business owners with devastating economic consequences. Large companies can be hurt by strikes, too, of course, but their very existence is not usually jeopardized. Given this reality, the business owners and their management teams must take steps to ensure that their companies will be able to continue their operations during the strike.

As Brenda Paik Sunoo[29] wrote in Personnel Journal, “a strike will inevitably pose challenges in many areas: managing contingent workers; setting up communication between management and all employees; maintaining customer service; establishing interim policies regarding benefits, overtime, vacations, and sick leave; and bolstering non-striking employees’ morale. Clearly, those that prepare well in advance will suffer the least trauma during and after a labor dispute.”[30]

As Bangladesh is a developing country so strike is very fatal for its economic growth. Strikes not only destroy the working spirit of the workers but also demolish the future of the nation. But strike is the only legal way of demonstrating agitation, and grievance towards the anarchy. So it’s the duty of both the management and the worker to solve the dispute and work along with side by side for the betterment of the country.

[1] Available at: iii

[2] Available at:

[3] Available at:

[4] Available at :

[5] Available at : Revolution of 1905

[6]Available at : Brisbane General Strike

[7] Available at : General Strike of 1919

[8] Available at : General Strike of 1919

[9] Available at : General Strike of 1926

[10] Available at : Francisco general strike of 1934

[11] Available at : general strike of 1934

[12] Available at : Arab revolt of 1936

[13] Available at : general strike of 1968

[14] Available at : general strike of 1973

[15] Available at : Ireland general strike of 1974

[16] Available at : strike of 1988

[17] Available at : general strike of 2002

[18] Available at : strike 2002-2003

[19] Available at :’s orange revolution of 2004

[20] Available at:

[21] Available at :

[22] Available at:

[23] Available at:

[24] Available at:

[25] Available at: :

[26] Available at:

[27] Available at: Waidelich, Eric. “Controlling the Strike Zone.” Risk Management. February 1998

[28] Available at:

[29] Available at: Sunoo, Brenda Paik. “Managing Strikes, Minimizing Loss.” Personnel Journal. January 1995

[30] Available at: