Golden Jubilee of Independence
Environment for trade unionism in Bangladesh: 1971-2020
Trade unionism is an attempt by otherwise relatively powerless individual employees (worker) to rectify the power imbalance. It is a substitute for individual action and is an integral part of the relationship between buyers and sellers of labour power. Generally trade union are voluntary association of workers formed to promote and protect their interests by collective endeavour. They are engage in bargaining with the employers to ensure better working conditions, fair wages, job security, safeguard against victimization etc. for their members. It also defends them against any encroachment, injustice and exploitation of workers by their employers. This write up have been focused on environment for trade unionism since independence on the occasion golden jubilee of independence of Bangladesh.
In developed societies management knows how to deal with trade unions. Trade unionism is accepted as a part and parcel of management of industries. Trade union leaders are allowed to exercise informal power so much and thereby, the worker's movements can be channelized into productive endeavours. A sound meaningful relationship between managers and trade union leaders are continue to reduce tensions within industries which ultimately leads to increase productively and share of benefits both the employer and employees (workers) in the long run. But, in Bangladesh societies, the contending parties are abnormally unequal in position of strength, as the buyer and seller of labour power. The seller of labour power in treated abjectly as if he is at the mercy of his buyer where the latter dictates almost unconditional terms to the former. In these societies trade unionism acts as a vital organic activity to remove the power imbalance between them as far as possible.
It is evident that political links of trade union have become universal although the extent of relationship between political parties and trade unions differ from country to country. In advanced societies trade unions of the whole country are linked up with a single political party through their single central federation, while, in Bangladesh, trade unions are tried up with too many political parties through multiple federations of trade unions. The deep intimacy ultimately creates a total war of politicization of the country's working class as well as labour movement. Sometimes industrial belts became battlefields of political parties. The workers, who had once fought together against their common enemies, started fighting with each other. Trade union leaders became instrumental in making chaos on behalf of their political party.
The statistical data shown that in 1971, there were only 1,160 registered trade unions in the country with a membership of 4,50,606. During the period of 1971-2020, it rose to 8,327 with a total membership of 29,16,989. Inspite of them, 99 industrial federations, 44 garments federations and 33 national federations of trade unions are working in Bangladesh. These data reveal that trade union index is 70.50 points higher then trade union membership index. It is also observed that the total membership of trade unions in Bangladesh has been gradually increasing since independence, but the average membership of trade union has been declining. As a result, the majority of the trade unions are small in size which undermines the strength and solidarity of the workers in many ways.
Evidence shows that the multiplicity of trade union in Bangladesh is a by-product of politicization which create a lot of problems in the industrial relations system. These are; (i) increasing intra-union and inter union rivalries; (ii) developing unhealthy competition in CBA election; (iii) developing opportunism in trade union leadership; (iv) increasing political influence among the trade unions; (v) transforming trade union into pocket union through bribing the trade union leaders; (vi) extraction of benefits under threat or physical violence;(vii) developing militant attitudes among the trade union leaders; (viii) worker's negative attitude towards trade union leaders; (ix) deteriorating law and order situation at industry; (x) creation of a sense of big-boss leaders among the workers; and (xi) tendency to avoid collective bargaining process by the employers. It has adversely affected the environment for trade unionism in Bangladesh.
The present government is firmly committed to achieve the SDG, 2030 and Vision, 2041 through facing any challenges in the context of the changed world economic circumstances. Building consensus among the stakeholders on issues of trade unionism and socio-economic development should have been the prime consideration. The environment for trade unionism are political as well as critical in nature and as such the government should take proper steps for addressing the trade unions problems in order to ensure productivity, industrial peace and harmony and also to make the country's economy more vibrant in ensuing days.
Professor Dr Md Abu Taher is a
Member, University Grants Commission of Bangladesh & Director,
Board of Directors, Jibon Bima Corporation, Dhaka