Plight of transport workers largely ignored
They work unimaginably hard. They get in return a paltry sum as wages that everyone will surely be stunned. To the utter shock of many, they cannot enjoy any paid leaves. Even they do not get any festival bonus let alone festival holidays. Their plight does not end there. They have also to face assault and verbal abuse every single day. They are transport workers.
The scenario is a glimpse of the everyday life of the transport worker. Now, the newly enacted Road Transport Act 2018, that came into effect from November 1, is virtually considered rubbing salt into their wounds, according to the transport workers.
This picture is came to light while interviewing more than hundred transport workers including of buses-both city services and inter-district long distance services-- and of goods-carrying trucks.
Currently, the transport workers are more concerned about the execution of the new law as it contains harsh provisions like death penalty, life imprisonment and huge
amount of penalty.
They said the new law ignores the interests of the workers and the owners are mostly exempted from the punitive measures and the same law is unnecessarily harsh making their lives more vulnerable.
The fine amount must be commensurate with the income of the workers, they demanded, noting that they virtually do not enjoy any legal rights and they are carrying out their job for survival only but now their lives are in danger every moment.
The transport workers do not get any appointment letters and they do not get any wage when they have no work to do or no trip to ply motor vehicles. They cannot work for more than 15 to 20 days in a month as their working-hour ranged from 12 to 26 hours without break. The transport sector is not even under Wage Board mechanism despite the Labour Act provision.
The drivers of city services including the sitting services get Tk 500 on average per day while helpers and conductors receive Tk 300. The drivers of inter-district buses get Tk 1,200 per day and helpers receive Tk 400 and conductors Tk 450. On the other hand, mechanics get Tk 5,600 to Tk 6,000 a month on average.
Goods-carrying truck drivers get Tk 15,000 on average per month, again it is subject to trips, and their helpers get Tk 9,500.
A worker is supposed to work for eight hours as per the Labour Act while the Road Transport Act says that the government can fix working hours and interval time for the workers by issuing gazette notification but such gazette is yet to be issued.
The transport workers can be required or be allowed to work overtime subject to getting allowance having double rate of basic wages, dearness allowance and ad-hoc or interim wages, if any, as per sections 100 and 108 of the Labour Act that was enacted in 2006 repealing 25 laws relating to labour relations.
The law stipulated that a worker can be required or be allowed to work overtime for 12 hours in a week and the overtime work of the transport workers must not exceed 150 hours in a year.
However, the transport workers do not get any overtime allowance even though they have to work for 12 to 26 hours unremittingly.
"The word 'paid leave' cannot be found in the dictionary of transport workers," said Arif Ali, a driver of Welcome City Service plying on the route Savar-Motijheel, adding that the transport workers even have to ply during Eid, Puja, Pahela Baishakh and other festivals for wages and they cannot get any festival bonus.
However, as per the Labour Act, a transport worker is legally entitled to fully-paid leaves for at least 106 days which include 53 weekly holidays, 18-day annual leave, 14-day sick leave, 10-day casual leave and 11-day festival leave.
The new RTA Act provisioned that for getting professional driving licence, one must be 21 years old and he must have passed the eight grade or equivalent exams. The law also provisioned that a conductor, who realizes fare and manages commuters, must also have professional licence.
According to transport workers, the provision of professional licence is very harsh and if the government wants to implement it, many will have to remain idle and ultimately people will have to suffer.
Moreover, obtaining licence in the reality of Bangladesh is so troublesome as minimum Tk 10,000 to Tk 20,000 have to be paid as speed money for getting the driving licence, filling up the qualifications as stipulated will not help in getting the licence.
However, the BRTA (Bangladesh Road Transport Authority) denies such allegations. Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader on many occasions stated that corruption in BRTA must be eradicated.
The new law provisioned that a driver cannot ply transport if he has not any appointment letter. However, the harsh reality is that the transport workers are not given any appointment letters or contract letters.
Monsur Ali, a helper of No 8 city service, said that salaries of government employees including ministers, MPs, and bureaucrats have been doubled in 2015 but the transport workers have not even been incorporated under Wage Board, a legally fixed structure of payment settled by government with the consultation with labour representatives and transport owner representatives. "What kind of humanism is this?" he remarked, adding that due to the pay hike and other factors, prices of essential commodities have also risen.
The transport workers do not even get any medical cost from owners in case of accident let alone medical allowance on a monthly basis while the owners are bound to give compensation to commuters in that case, said a transport worker who could not work for four years due to an accident.
Not only that, when workers place demand for a wage hike, the owners stop their buses. In one incident, Welcome city service owners stopped their vehicles after the workers demanded a wage hike, a worker told this correspondent.
A helper of Bikolpo Paribahan said, "In most of the cases, we tolerate indecent behaviour of commuters. But sometimes, their behaviour become so ignoble that we cannot but be rough."
The new RTA Act provisioned for good behaviour with the commuters but it is silent about good behaviour of the commuters to the transport workers.
A number of transport workers alleged that union leaders become lackeys of transport owners and the government for which owners virtually control the workers' associations and demands of workers, wage hike, in particular, cannot be realised.
In addition, transport owners became leaders of workers' federations and associations, for example, Shajahan Khan, former Water Transport Minister, also a bus owner, is the Executive President of the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation.