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2024-02-15 12:15:57

Maternal leave for garments workers not in practice

Rashed Hossain

Maternal leave for garments workers not in practice

The children are the most worthy asset to a mother. However, the livelihood of garments workers is at stake if they dream of giving birth of babies properly. They’re not given the maternal leave; even many of them fall in threat of firing from the jobs in such situation. The RMG products are sold to the buyers from abroad showing that it’s done according to the compliance, but the pathetic reality of the to-be mother garments workers remain out of sight to many people.

One of such misfortunate person is garments worker Runu Akter who used to work in TRZ garments in Gacha Thana area of Gazipur metropolis. She has been fired from the jobs after submitting applications for maternal leave. She applied to managing director of the company in September of 2023. Before that she even submitted medical report to company’s welfare officer Shahnaj. However, when on September24 she went to join the work, the security guard at the gate of the factory told her that she had been fired by the human resource and admin manager of the company. The letter of dismissing had been sent through mail, said the guard. Runu hadn’t got the maternal leave despite her five years of work experience in the company. Furthermore, she had been laid off.  

Her husband Md. Saddam Hossain told The Bangladesh Pratidin, “After my wife Runu Akhtar got pregnant, she applied to the garment owner for maternity leave under the Labor Act. The authorities did not accept the application and instead the security guard informed Runu from the factory gate that she had been fired.”

Nilufa Begum (pseudonym) worked as an operator's assistant at ATS Giants Wire Private Limited in Ashkona Dakshinkhan area of the capital. Authorities banned Nilufa from coming to work after she became pregnant last year. Nilufa did not even receive maternity benefits for that month. Apart from her, two other workers appealed to the director general of the Department of Inspection of Factories and Establishments seeking reconsideration in this regard. It didn't work.

Talking to several women workers, it is known that they are discouraged and intimidated in various ways while working during pregnancy. Pregnant women workers are forced to leave their jobs through various tactics including making them work longer hours. If that doesn't work, they are sent on compulsory leave and fired without any excuse. There are many organizations, where the news of pregnancy leads to dismissal. Again, some factories give maternity leave but argue about salary and allowances. Many postpone pregnancy for fear of losing their jobs.

In this regard, Shaheen Alam, a member of the Central Committee of the Garment Workers Union Center, said, “Women workers are often laid off when they are pregnant. They don't know much about labor laws.”

Garment Sramik Oikya Forum president Moshrafa Mishu said, “Women workers do not get maternity leave properly. Many have to be fired from their jobs if they want maternity leave. The garment does not have a baby care unit. In this way, women are devalued. According to the Labor Act 2006, a worker is entitled to maternity benefits after working for six months in an establishment. Pregnant workers will get 8 weeks before and after delivery. There is also provision for allowance at a fixed rate. Pregnant workers should not be subjected to long and heavy work. The worker can enjoy this benefit maximum twice. And the employer is obliged to provide these benefits to the workers.”

The Ministry of Labor and Employment has six departments to oversee the Labor Welfare Act. There are also various labor organizations and NGOs. However, maternity leave is not available properly. Labor Department Director of Trade Union, Arbitration and Training Branch, SM Enamul Haque said, “Not giving maternity leave or retrenchment will violate the law. She should be employed and given maternity benefits. Even if the birth is spoiled, four weeks leave should be given. Failure to provide these facilities will be a punishable offence.”

When asked about this, BGMEA Vice President Shahidullah Azim said, “These incidents happened 15 to 20 years ago. This kind of thing does not happen now. There is no chance of such an incident. A couple of isolated incidents may occur. But in most cases it doesn’t happen.”

(The report was published on print and online versions of The Bangladesh Pratidin on February 15 and rewritten in English by Lutful Hoque Khan) ​

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