It was 7 in the morning at Malibagh in the capital. Workers were streaming to the garment factories on DIT, Malibagh.
Nasrin Akter is one of the workers. She has to work 12 hours a day at one of the garment factories there. She has been working these long hours for the last five years for a paltry wage of Tk 8,000 a month.
The working hours of a labourer was fixed a hundred years ago. Following violent protests, the International Labour Organization (ILO) fixed maximum working time eight hours a day and 48 hours a week in a convention at Washington. The Hours of Work (Industry) Convention-1919 also fixed at least eight hours a day for recreation of the workers.
Bangladesh ratified the convention in 1972.
More than a century later, this remains a far cry for the workers in Bangladesh.
Like Nasrin, 6 million workers of 102 formal sectors and nearly 50 of the informal sectors are still caught up in the vicious cycle of extra-working hours.
The extra-working hours are impacting their personal life and productivity.
“Every day, it takes 12 in the night to get to bed after finishing all the housework. There is one day off a week. But, when work pressure increases, we have to work on the day-off as well,” said Nasrin.
Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) draws the same conclusion as Nasrin.
BILS said nearly 4 million people work in the readymade garments industry. But, most of them work between 60 and 72 hours a week.
In some factories, it added, workers are forced to work extra-hours at night. That increases health hazard for them.
But the Bangladesh labour law of 2006 in Article 102 says, “Provided that the total hours of work of an adult worker shall not exceed sixty hours in any week and on the average fifty-six hours per week in any year.”
This reporter also talked to a driver of a city bus, Midnight Mostafa. He said he has no fixed working hours, salary or even leave.
The trips he completes, the more he earns, he added.
“I start driving around 6 in the morning and stop at 10 in the night.”
An ILO report shows more than 35 per cent transport workers have to work extra-hours.
A total of 45 per cent workers in the country’s production sector work more than 48 hours in a week, said the ILO report styled “World Employment and Social Outlook”.
The 108th Session of the International Labour Conference was held between 10 and 21 June in Geneva, Switzerland. According to the ILO, 'the broad policies of the organisation are set by the International Labour Conference, which meets once a year in June, in Geneva.'
ILO’s Bangladesh chapter’s director Tuomo Poutiainen said, “We work to keep our dear ones happy. This is the reality for millions of men and women across the world. Long working time not only harms the personal life of a worker, it also increases risk of accidents at the work places.”
The 129th anniversary of the historic May Day was observed last month across in Bangladesh and elsewhere across the globe with a pledge to establish the rights of workers.
An ILO study in 2017 says 58.8 per cent workers work more than 48 hours a week in Bangladesh.
In 2017, the BILS also conducts a study on five private sectors that shows 80 per cent security officials work more than eight hours a day while 46 per cent of public transport workers work more than 15 hours a day.
The report titled “Current State of Working Hour in Bangladesh” also says 40 per cent of restaurant workers have to work more than 10 hours a day while labourers at re-rolling mills and private hospital, clinic and diagnostic centres for 12 hours.
Md Solaiman is a security man at a residential building at Shantinagar area. He told Prothom Alo that he starts his day at 6am in the morning and that continues till 12 in the night.
*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print, has been rewritten in English by Toriqul Islam