In Bangladesh, led by Manusher Jonno Foundation, the research is being carried out in Maheskhali, Cox’s Bazar and Pathargatha, Barguna by the Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) and Coast Trust. At the roundtable, the participants put forward recommendations based on the preliminary findings of the research.
Chief guest at the meeting, head of the parliamentary standing committee for the labour and employment ministry, Mujibul Huq, in an audio message said that there has not been much official planning regarding the rights and other aspects of the fishing community who are outside of the labour law's purview. He promised to convey the recommendations of the discussants to the appropriate authorities and raise the issue in parliament.
Presiding over the virtual meet, Manusher Jonno Foundation’s executive director Shaheen Anam said the fishermen work in difficult a dangerous places, but are paid a pittance. If any of them are lost or die while fishing on the high seas, their families receive no compensation. The women have to take responsibility of the family then. And the women and children workers in this sector are in an even worse predicament.
The moderator of the meeting was Prothom Alo’s assistant editor Firoz Choudhury. The opening presentation was made by Prothom Alo’s Associate editor Abdul Quayum.
Social welfare secretary of Barguna’s Pathargatha National Workers Federation, Zakir Hossain, sad that the workers in this sector lived on the seas in inhuman conditions. They work for 18 to 20 hours at a stretch and still do not get to sleep. There is a lack of drinking water and they spend long stretches without bathing. They have no fixed wages. The trawler owners do not follow 13 of the licence clauses and so the workers have no security. Each family of the fishermen are to be given 40kg of rice when the fishing ban is on, but that is not delivered to them in time.
The keynote regarding the state of the fishing community’s work was presented by the BILS senior officer (planning and monitoring), Rezwanul Huq. He said, 80 per cent of the workers taking part in the research feel that there is a shortage of life saving equipment on the vessels. There is a lack of modern and effective technology to inform them of cyclones. One third of the workers felt that they had to take loans from the trawler owners for the sake of survival and then ha to repay this through labour. They want an end to this. Alongside trade union complications, the workers had to work with no written agreement and so it was difficult to get compensation or avail other rights.
Special guest at the discussion, former vice chancellor of Bangladesh Agricultural University, Abdus Sattar Mandal, said the same things had been said about these workers even 12 years ago. Many projects were taken up, but the workers were never drawn into any large development structure. Since the problem continued, it meant that a different solution had to be devised. Abdus Sattar suggested alternative employment for these workers, vocational and skills training for the youth of these families, optimum use of solar energy and technology, creating entrepreneurs, and capital assistance from a government and non-government level. He felt the administration should step up its assistance and supervision to include these fishing sector workers in the greater agricultural sector.
Executive director of Coast Trust, M Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, stressed the need to register the workers before they went out to sea. As they were not registered, if they died at sea, there was no accounting for them.
BILS advisor Naimul Ahsan stressed the need for transparency in healthcare and rationing for the women workers in the fishing sector.