Sanowar Hossain is longing for justice for over nine years after he filed a case with a Dhaka labour court in 2010, seeking compensation for his termination by his employer in Gazipur.
He is yet to get Tk 1.20 lakh that he claimed. In the meantime, he needed to travel from Gazipur to Dhaka to attend court sessions at least three or four times a year.
Besides, he had to spend a handsome amount of money and repeatedly ask for leave from present employers who did not take that positively.
“This is a terrible experience but I am still waiting for justice,” he said on Monday.
Sufferings of many workers like Sanowar linger as the seven labour courts and the Labour Appellate Tribunal had 17,600 cases pending as of last month, official sources say.
According to lawyers and labour leaders, such a small number of courts, one after another time petitions filed by lawyers specially representing owners, frequent absence of members of labour courts cause unnecessary delay in disposal of the cases.
The labour court members mostly remain busy with their main jobs, said at least two lawyers.
A labour court consists of a chairman and two members -- one representing the worker and the other representing the employer. The chairman, who is a judge, picks the two members to constitute the court for the purpose of hearing an industrial dispute or a dispute relating to the service/employment of the workers.
No appointment to the post of chairman at the Labour Appellate Tribunal for over one and a half months, and to the posts of registrar at Dhaka second and third labour courts, Chittagong first and second courts and the lone court in Khulna for two to over six months has made the situation worse.
Court officials say some of the cases have been pending for 10 years even though the labour law requires all cases to be disposed of in 60 days. If the cases are not disposed within 60 days, the court can extend the deadline for another 90 days showing a valid reason.
One of the problems relating to the cases is “the law does not specifically say what would happen if the case is not resolved within the stipulated time,” said a member of a labour court in Dhaka.
Registrar Adhir Chandra Bala of the appellate tribunal claimed that the rate of case disposal in recent months is higher than that of case filing. The backlog is a result of pending cases from the past, he said.
Replying to a query, he said the posts of registrar often fall vacant as many quit after finding better opportunities while the post of chairman of Labour Appellate Tribunal is contractual.
Currently, three out of the seven labour courts are based in Dhaka, two in Chittagong and one each in Rajshahi and Khulna. The Labour Appellate Tribunal is also based in Dhaka.
The registrar’s office of the Labour Appellate Tribunal keeps record of pending cases only in three categories -- over one month, over three and over six months.
So, if a case is pending for more than one year, it remains in the category for over six months.
Of all the cases, 10,838 are pending for over six months, 3,495 for more than three months and 3,275 for more than one month, according to the registrar’s office.
A total of 1,047 cases are pending with the appellate tribunal, 4,576 with the Dhaka first court, 5,263 with the Dhaka second court, 4,005 cases with the Dhaka third court, 1,510 with the Chattogram first court, 578 with the Chattogram second court, 214 with the Khulna court and 415 cases with the Rajshahi court.
“We are creating a database for all the pending cases for quick disposal of those,” said Ummul Hasna, secretary-in-charge of Ministry of Labour and Employment.
To ease the huge backlog, the ministry has taken an initiative to set up three new labour courts in Sylhet, Barisal and Rangpur, she added.
Tribunal Registrar Adhir said the three new courts will start work by July next year.
Most of the pending cases relate to disputes arising out of layoffs, dismissals, retrenchments, non-payment and delayed payment of wages and other benefits, compensation for workplace injuries and violation of trade union rights.
The number of labour courts has not increased since 1970 despite the huge increase in employment in the country.
Labour leaders mentioned that the courts are situated in divisional headquarters. So a worker in Sylhet has to go to the Labour Court of Chittagong to file cases or a worker in Barisal has to go to Khulna for seeking justice.
“This delay in disposal of cases costs a complainant additional money,” said Razekuzzman Ratan, a leader of Sramik Karmachari Oikya Parishad (Skop), the country’s top body of trade unions.
A worker needs a day’s leave from the employer to attend a hearing in a labour court, which creates problems for his or her in the work place, he added.
“In most cases, owners’ lawyers file unnecessary time petitions repeatedly, which delays the decisions of the courts and lingers the case” said Ratan, a member of Dhaka second court.
At least three lawyers practising at the labour courts said frequent absence of members cause unnecessary delay in disposing of the cases.
Labour Court Bar Association General Secretary Rafiqul Islam said it takes time to start a case proceeding because of formalities and that’s one of the reasons behind the backlog.
Rafiqul Islam said generally a court takes 18 to 24 months to dispose of a case.