Most of the complaints lodged with the Dhaka office of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) by workers and employees, are concerned with wages and allowances as well as unpaid dues after termination.

Over the past 13 months, including 2021 and January of this year, 802 workers and employees have placed complaints with the DIFE Dhaka office. A review of these complaints reveals that 91 per cent of these deal with wages and unpaid dues.

Other than in Dhaka, employees of various factories and establishments all over the country have submitted complaints to DIFE. In the 2020-21 fiscal, 5,236 complaints have been lodged from all over the country. However, the department was unable to clarify separately how many complaints were made in different categories. The officials of the department said that most of the complaints from all over the country concerned the issue of wages.

Today, 1 May, marks the historic May Day. It is a day with a vision of all exploitation and deprivation faced by workers coming to an end. On this occasion, workers and labour leaders have said the problems are far more than the number of complaints lying with DIFE. Generally speaking, the workers and employees only resort to DIFE after their jobs are terminated. Even if they are treated unfairly while in service, they do not complain in fear of losing their jobs.

Of the 802 complaints lodged with the Dhaka office, 362 are concerned with wages, 370 with unpaid dues, 20 are about not being granted leave and maternity leave, 19 deal with not being paid for overtime, nine concern termination of services, seven deal with safety and health issues, two are about physical abuse and 13 are about other issues.

When a woman worker is expecting a child, she is supposed to be given certain financial assistance and maternity leave. But in many cases the authorities look for loopholes to terminate the services of expectant mothers

Speaking to Prothom Alo, general secretary of the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, Nahidul Hasan, said there are relatively less complaints against the larger export-oriented factories. Most of the complaints about wages and allowances are against the smaller and medium-sized factories and those that work on sub-contract with the larger factories.

He further said, according to the rules, when a woman worker is expecting a child, she is supposed to be given certain financial assistance and maternity leave. But in many cases the authorities look for loopholes to terminate the services of expectant mothers. At times, workers are also dismissed when they join up with trade unions.

According to the labour laws, a worker is to be paid wages within seven working days after the month ends. And workers whose services are terminated have to be paid various allowances according to the law.

Deputy inspector general of DIFE Dhaka zone, AKM Salahuddin, told Prothom Alo that most of the complaints are from the garment factories in Dhaka district. But these complaints are not so much from the export oriented factories as from the establishments that target the local market.

Workers crushing stones in Amin Bazar area, Savar, Dhaka
Prothom Alo file photo

In many cases, large establishments get their products manufactured by a third party factory. Most of the complaints come from these factories that work on sub-contract.

He said, in recent years complaints have also been coming in from various establishments outside of the garment sector.

Pipul Hossain Ferdous is one of the persons who have complained to DIFE. He was a senior medical promotion officer at a pharmaceutical manufacturing firm. The firm laid him off after 10 years of service. Pipul said, in November last year he was told to resign, but he refused. He told the authorities that if necessary, they could dismiss him.

He was then dismissed, said Pipul, but was not paid his dues. He lodged a complaint with DIFE in this regard and received a payment of around Tk 350,000.

Workers and employees can send their complaints to DIFE by letter, e-mail or by phone. The worker helpline is 16357. The department has said that most of the complaints that they receive are settled. If these are not settled at the department, the workers can then resort to the labour court.

The DIFE deputy inspector general AKM Salahuddin said that many of the workers had no idea where to complain.

* This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir