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Connecting People and Ideas for Integrated Development

PRODIP making a difference in BangladeshMd. Israfil Alam MP, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labor and Employment

Jointly implemented by the SUNY Center for International Development (SUNY/CID) and The Asia Foundation of San Francisco, one of the principal goals of the USAID-funded project, Promoting Democratic Institutions and Practices in Bangladesh (PRODIP), is the strengthening of the legislative function of the Parliament. Unlike the U.S. Congressional system, in Westminster-style parliamentary governments it is often the case that the executive branch, not the legislature, is the main source of new laws. This is the case in the extreme in Bangladesh, where virtually all legislative initiatives emerge from government ministries and are routinely accepted by the Jatiya Sangsad (the Parliament of Bangladesh). In this context, SUNY/CID’s PRODIP team has been working with parliamentary standing committees to encourage more active participation in law making on the part of MPs through activities such as study tours and trainings, and, perhaps most important, support of evidence-based research in the form of public hearings.

On a PRODIP-sponsored study tour to Canada in 2011, Md. Israfil Alam MP, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labor and Employment, observed Canadian MPs holding hearings with expert witnesses and learned about international practices for filing Private Members Bills. After the tour he decided to follow the example of the Canadian MPs. He said, “I was very inspired by the visit to the Canadian Parliament and mesmerized to see how important it is for an MP to initiate legislation. I would like to do so.’’

He began to plan to file a Private Members Bill to ensure the welfare and security of marginal workers who are not covered under the existing legal framework.  “About 87 percent of the laborers in Bangladesh are engaged in the informal sector. They are mostly unprotected by the rights, benefits, facilities and security of existing labor law,’’ he said.

He looked to SUNY/CID’s PRODIP team for support in data collection from concerned laborers, labor organizations, and experts. PRODIP provided an intern with legal training to work with the Labor Committee and agreed to help organize public hearings on unorganized laborers’ issues, rights, problems and solutions. In June 2012, the Committee conducted a field hearing on protection of unorganized laborers in Dhaka. This hearing was attended by 70 citizens, civil society organizations and workers in Dhaka city. Seventeen witnesses, representing seven labor sectors (construction workers, rickshaw pullers, street vendors, domestic workers and bookbinders) provided testimony before the Committee as did civil society organizations such as the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity Center. The PRODIP intern prepared a briefing memo on the proposed bill and extended legal support to the Committee staff for primary drafting of the bill using evidence and information gathered from the hearing. When the Chairman initially submitted the draft legislation to the Parliamentary Secretariat it was sent back for technical clarifications. Again, the Chairman requested PRODIP assistance. The SUNY/CID team provided a drafting specialist to help make this bill technically sound . After a lengthy process, Chairman Alam presented the ”Un-organized Laborer’s (Informal Sector) Welfare and Social Security Bill” at the16th session of the 9th Parliament on Feb. 7, 2013. The Parliament accepted the bill for consideration and sent it to the Committee on Private Members Bills and Resolution for further scrutiny.

This bill seeks to bring the domestic and unorganized workforce under the definition of the Labour Law of 2006, thereby ensuring the welfare and dignity of these workers. The bill proposes the formation of a 19-member ‘Unorganized Workers Welfare and Social Security Board’ to issue identity cards to unorganized workers, domestic workers, home based workers and other informal labours. The identity card holders will automatically come under the social security network of the government. The board will also maintain official data on the number of the workers. Any violation of the rights of the workers will come under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

Updated Feb. 27, 2013