Thousands of ship-breaking workers not getting Eid bonus
The provision states that festival bonuses cannot be more than the basic salary for those who worked for one year in any yard. But it does not specify how meagre the bonus can be.
Using a loophole in the labour act, ship-breaking-yard owners are depriving thousands of workers of festival bonuses, which is, according to the workers, a great injustice ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr.
Sub section-5 of Section-111 of Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006, formulated under the law in 2015, allows the owners to deprive workers. The provision states that festival bonuses cannot be more than the basic salary for those who worked for one year in any yard. But it does not specify how meagre the bonus can be.
The government declared the minimum wage for ship-breaking workers in 2016: Tk 16,000 for new workers. The basic salary for these workers was fixed at Tk 8,000. However, no yard has implemented the wages yet, defying the law.
Dismantling ships is one of the deadliest jobs in the world, given the lack of safety measures and presence of toxic substances inside expired ships. Workplace accidents claim workers' lives quite often.
Out of 106, around 60 yards are operational in Chattogram's Sitakunda upazila. They remain one of the most dangerous workplaces, due to lax implementation of environmental and safety laws. Around 25,000 workers are engaged in demolishing worn out ships in these yards.
Tapan Dutta, president of Ship-breaking Trade Union Forum, told The Daily Star that taking advantage of the loophole, many yard owners offer as low as Tk 500 to the workers. Some owners even refuse to pay.
Mentioning an example from last year, he said they held a meeting in presence of government authorities ahead of Eid regarding bonuses. Following the meeting, the owners closed their yards for holidays after giving workers Tk 500 to 1,000.
"They are a big mafia. This year, the same thing is repeating, depriving the workers of their dues. The labour movement lost its momentum, which enabled owners to do whatever they want," he said.
Jeyabul Ahmed (35), who has worked for a ship-breaking organisation for the last one year, told this newspaper that they were barred from asking about bonuses. "It seems like they will offer some meagre amount before the yard closes for the holidays."
The Daily Star talked to a number of ship-breaking workers. All of them expressed the same woes.
Abul Kalam, president of Ship-breaking Workers Welfare Association, told this newspaper that owners ensure full salary and bonus for its staff but not workers, a blatant discrimination that has been going on for a long time.
"Regulatory body DIFE [Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishment] did not exercise its power to compel owners to pay bonuses", he alleged.
Abdullah Al Sakib Mubarrat, deputy inspector general for DIFE, Chattogram division, denied the allegation, saying that they held a meeting recently to ensure bonuses.
"I asked owners to submit the sheet of payees to make sure workers are paid their dues", he said.
Mubarrat, however, admitted that sometimes, contractors under which the workers are employed deprive them of bonuses.
"The contractors received full payment from owners but pay workers as low as they can, fleecing the rest of the money. It's difficult to take action when such things happen. As no one files any complaint, we can't take action," he said.
Contacted, Abu Taher, president of Bangladesh Ship-breaking and Ship Recycling Association, told The Daily Star that owners paid bonuses as per their wish.
"Those workers who were not regularised are not eligible for bonuses. Owners paid them as per their ability," he said.
Asked about the workers' claims, he shrugged them off, saying that they are unfounded.