Amendment to the Labour Rules 2015: Safer Workplace for Women
The Ministry of Labour and Employment has introduced some important amendments to the Labour Rules 2015 with effect from 1 September 2022. There are as many as 101 amendments, including inserting some new rules, are made to the 2015 Rules; of these there are only six amendments the women can benefit from. This write-up explores these amendments in details.
The most significant one is the insertion of a new, i.e. Rule 361A (Conduct towards Women) which complements section 332 of the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 and defines sexual harassment. Sub-rule 1 states where any woman is employed in any work of any establishment, no person of that establishment shall harass her sexually and behave with her which is uncivil, impolite and repugnant to the modesty or honour of that woman or which may seem to be sexually indecent or unmannerly. An explanation appended to sub-rule 1 expounds the term sexual harassment and it says for the purpose of this sub-rule, twelve types of conduct would constitute the indecent and unmannerly behaviour and sexual harassment. For instance, showing pornography or preventing the participation in sports, cultural, organisational and/or academic activities on the ground of sex would, among others, tantamount to sexual harassment.
It appears that this definition is adopted from the reported judgment in Writ Petition No. 5916 of 2009, where His Lordship Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain gave directives in the form of guidelines on how to prevent and deal with sexual harassment in workplaces and educational institutions in both public and private sectors. Sub-rule 2 imposes a duty to constitute a Complaint Committee to prevent sexual harassment in every workplace. The Complaint Committee will have minimum five members and majority of the members will be women; the head of the Committee will also be a woman. Sub-rule 3 implies that a guideline to prevent sexual harassment will be formulated and distributed/circulated to all employees by the respective employer; and also, there will be a complaint box at every workplace and the received complaints to be redressed/addressed after lodging it on a register. The whole new rule is a summary of the guideline suggested by His Lordship in the aforementioned judgement. One of the purposes of the directives offered in the judgement was to filling up the legislative vacuum.
There are three amendments that are related to maternity benefits. Firstly, a new proviso has been added at the end of rule 38 that clarifies that if a woman gives birth after the scheduled time of eight weeks preceding the expected day of her delivery, the days that pass after the scheduled time of eight weeks will be adjusted under the Rules. Secondly, a new rule 38A (Leave for Miscarriage) entitles a woman to leave in case of a miscarriage. If a woman suffers a miscarriage before the scheduled date of going on maternity leave, she will be entitled to four weeks leave due to her health reasons; and no deductions from wages will be made for such leave. At the same time, such leave cannot be adjusted with any leave which is due to her. Finally, a new rule 39A (Calculation of Maternity Benefit) prescribes the method of calculation for maternity benefit and allows deductions to be made for her subscriptions to provident fund as per law.
Amendment to rule 78(1)(D)(viii) allocates a responsibility on the employer to have arrangement in the Health Centre to provide consultation to women employees regarding the use of sanitary napkin/towel/pad. A new proviso at the end of rule 103(1) indicates that the employer has to ensure the necessary transport with security in case a woman is to work between 10PM and 6AM.
Some might argue that the measures are so negligible in comparison with what needs to be done, however, the amendments are to be considered as 'better late than never' and we certainly believe these amendments will bring a more congenial and ensure safer workplace for women in our country.
The writer is an Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh.