No professional recognition of farm labourers

Khadimul Islam

People employed as labourers in the agriculture sector are yet to be recognised as labourers as they have no minimum wages and face seasonal joblessness, though they depend on their daily labour for a living.
   Talking to New Age, some agricultural labourers in three divisions said that they had no idea about ‘May Day’, minimum wage and their rights as labourers. They only sought works for a living throughout the year.
   ‘38 years have passed after the independence of the country, which is one of the signatories of the ILO convention. But the successive governments did not formulate any agricultural labour law to recognise farm labourers as workers and ensure their welfare,’ Saiful Huq, general secretary of Bangladesh Khetmojur Union faction, told New Age.
   Samsuzzaman Selim, president of the farm labourers’ wing of Bangladesh Khetmajur Samiti, said there were about 6 crore farm labourers in the country and they remained jobless for about 150 days a year.
   The farm labourers and marginal farmers face acute food shortage during the lean period of the year — from early October to mid-November — when there is little or no job in the cropland after sowing aman paddy. The period lingers as conventional aman crop takes 145-148 days to become ripe.
   ‘What we have earned during the cultivation and harvesting of the crop is not sufficient to meet our needs during the lean period as the quantity of paddy or its cash equivalent in exchange for labour is very nominal,’ Ekramul Huq, a farm labourer of Nachole upazila in Chapainawabganj district, told New Age on Wednesday.
   He said this time the landowners had preferred to give paddy instead of cash in exchange for labour to harvest Boro because of lower price of paddy.
   ‘I reached an agreement to harvest each bigha of paddy, which required at least six labourers, for Tk 800,’ said another farm labourer of the upazila.
   ‘This time we are getting 8 kg of paddy for harvesting boro,’ said a farmer of Lalmonirhat.
   The wages of the farm labourers vary. The lowest wages were reported from the northern region of the country. At this moment there is no minimum wage for farm labourers. The wage depends on the whim of the landowners and farmers.
   In 1984, the Agricultural Labour Ordinance set the minimum daily wage for agricultural labour at 3.28 kg of rice or its cash equivalent. But it was not implemented.
   ‘The farm labourers have a master-servant relationship with their employers,’ said an agriculture officer in Rangpur.
   There is gender discrimination in the farm labour. ‘I was hired for Tk 120 while my male counterpart was hired for Tk 250 for the same task of harvesting,’ Nurunnahar, a woman farm labourer of Asulia, told New Age.
   The labour and employment minister, Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain last month at a discussion said the government would take steps to formulate the agricultural labour law to give proper recognition to farmers and ensure their welfare.
   ‘Eighty percent labourers, including farmers, do not come within the purview of the definition of ‘labourer’ as their jobs fall under a sector defined as ‘informal’. This system needs to be changed as informal sector is the main sector of Bangladesh,’ the minister said.

Source: The Daily New Age. 01 May 2009


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