Strengthening labour adjudication
At present, Labour Courts in Bangladesh are functioning under the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006. According to this Act, the Labour Court is a unique and distinct court, constitution of which is based on tripartite representation model. The Court consists of a chairman and two members; one representing the workers and the other representing the employer. There is a panel of members of the Labour Court from which the Chairman appoints 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. The Court while trying offences under the Act or resolving a dispute relating to the payment of wages or of compensation to workers for accidents, consists only of the Chairman.
Appeal from the judgments, decisions, or awards of Labour Court lies to the Labour Appellate Tribunal. The Tribunal may be constituted with one Chairman alone or with the Chairman and such other members as the Government thinks fit. The Chairman may be appointed from among the persons who are or had been a Judge or Additional Judge of the Supreme Court. Ordinarily the decisions of the Tribunal is final, no appeal lies against the order or judgment of the Tribunal.
Keeping the practical aspects aside, the Act itself too can be legally scrutinised for delving deeper into the problem. The Act has not provided for any criteria of judicial knowledge, experience or minimum qualification for members except for that of the Chairman. Though the Labour Court is a specialised judicial body but there is no provision requiring any prior experience (in dealing with labour law matters) or for minimum training for judges before getting them appointed from lower judiciary. As a result, indifference, inefficiency and unprofessionalism of judges and members hinder the proceedings of Labour Courts.
Though the Act mandated the Government to establish required number of Labour Courts, as of now, there are only 7 Labour Courts across the country (3 in Dhaka, 2 in Chittagong, and 1 each in Rajshahi and Khulna). There is only one Labour Appellate Tribunal at Dhaka. Among these, Courts of Dhaka and Chittagong are situated in the divisional headquarters. As a result a tea garden worker of Sylhet and a rice-mill worker of Brahmanbaria has to go the Labour Court of Chittagong to file cases for their grievance, unpaid wages and compensation. A worker of Syedpur has to go the Labour Court of Rajshahi and a worker of Barisal has to go Khulna for seeking labour justice. Therefore, instead of going courts traveling hundreds of kilometres for their redress many workers have to embrace injustice. Harassing the toiling masses and workers in such a way in the name of delivering justice is contrary to the spirit of our Constitution.
The Act mandated the completion of trial in the Labour Courts and Tribunals within 60 days. However, it is found that about 50% cases take time from 1-3 years while around 20% cases take more than 3 years. In most of the cases the reason behind this delay is adjournment of judicial proceedings on the request from the employers' side. As a result, a worker who is being terminated from one factory fighting for his unpaid wages and other dues and joined in a new factory, by appearing in the Court frequently s/he gets terminated from the new factory also.
By analysing court registers, it is found that, till September 2016: in the Labour Courts of Bangladesh, 15128 cases were pending and among these, 11272 cases have been pending for more than six months. It is also found that, case filing rate is higher than case disposal rate causing great sufferings to the working masses. A few number of labour courts are overburdenend with cases resulting in the backlogging and delay in disposal of cases.
Disputes between employers and workers are inevitable in industrial relations. Resolving these disputes peacefully while keeping the working environment sound, will result in production, growth, investment, industry and economy of the country. To make the Labour Courts accessible for the workers and to facilitate them to recover their legal rights, at least one Labour Court (constituted with a Joint District Judge) should be established in every district and two in every district having industrial area and at least one Labour Appellate Tribunal(constituted with a District Judge) in every division of Bangladesh. Compulsory court sponsored ADR system should be introduced in the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 to reduce inordinate delay and backlogging of labour disputes.
The writers are students of law, University of Dhaka.