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Maternity Benefits under the

Bangladesh Labour Law 2006 An


analysis with focus on the
RMG Industry
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Introduction:

In the latter half of the twentieth century, there has been a dramatic rise in the
proportion of women who have entered the workforce throughout the world. In
Bangladesh the number of women working has also gone up in the last 20
years. As per available data of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) in 2006,
of the 49.5 million of civilian workforce, about 38% are female (BBS, 2006).
With women working, maternity leave is of course an issue.
Evolution of the labour laws and those relating to maternity benefits in
Bangladesh
The century old labour law system in Bangladesh was enacted during the
British rule of the subcontinent, in 1881. Later, laws concerning different labour
issues, e.g., The Factories Act (1881), Workmens Compensation Act (1923),
Trade Unions Act (1926), Trade Disputes Act (1929), Payment of Wages Act
(1936), Maternity Benefits Act (1939), and the Employment of Children Act
(1938) were a few of the employment/labour laws enacted during that period.
After the separation of the Indian sub-continent in 1947, almost all the laws
during the pre-partition period were kept in force with some modifications and
amendments, in the form of administrative rules, by the Pakistan Government.
After the independence in 1971, the Bangladesh government retained the
previous laws through the Bangladesh Laws Order (Presidents Order No. 48).
No major development took place in the history of labour legislation till the
enactment of the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006. The Bangladesh Labour Act,
2006 is a major and comprehensive enactment regarding industrial relation
system through codification of existing labour laws in order to avoid

overlapping and inconsistencies and brought some significant changes in


industrial relation system.
Before the amalgamation of all the labour laws through the Bangladesh
Labour Act 2006, there were three distinct acts for the regulation of maternity
benefits for women for certain periods before and after child birth and for the
payment of maternity benefits to them. These were The Maternity Benefits Act
1939 (which was most widely used in manufacturing, service and other
organizations), The Mines Maternity Benefit Act 1941, and The Maternity
Benefits (Tea Estate) Act 1950. All three of these acts have been repealed and
amalgamated into the new labour laws under Chapter IV as Maternity
Benefits.
What are the provisions/benefits being provided to women workers,
what has changed from before?
The maternity leave policy available to women in Bangladesh is 16 weeks with
full payment. However, interestingly enough, there are no specific laws that
exist for management level (women) staff. The law that exists is Bangladesh
Sromo Ain, 2006 or The Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 given in Chapter IV
called Maternity Benefit, referring to workers that do manual work mainly in
factories, etc. The leave period that is guaranteed to non-management women
workers is similar to Pakistan, Singapore and Sri-Lanka from the Asian region.
Table: A comparison between the current and previous provisions
Comparison
Criteria

Maternity Benefits
(MB), Chapter IV
under BLA 2006

Maternity
The Changes
Benefits Act,
1939 (widely
used
previously)

Leave Duration

16 weeks (8 weeks prior and 8


weeks post-delivery)

12 weeks (6 weeks
prior and 6 weeks
post-delivery)

(Sec 46)

An extension of 4
weeks

Eligibility (Sec 46)

Have served at least a


minimum of 6 months with
current employer

Have served at least


9 months with
current employer

Eligibility criteria
relaxed by 3
months

Employment type
eligible

Those employment in
permanent capacity

Same

No changes in
eligibility:

Funding Sources

Employer funded,

Employer Funded

No changes

Procedure of
payment (Sec 47)

3 options are available:

To be paid within
48 hours of
submission of
certificate of
pregnancy or
delivery (Sec 5)

Has been relaxed


from employers
perspective

1.
Payment of 8 weeks
of salary within 3 days of
submitting proof of pregnancy
and remaining 8 weeks 3 days
after submission of proof of
delivery.
2.
Payment of 8 weeks
of salary within 3 days of
submitting proof of pregnancy
and remaining within 8 weeks
after submission of proof of
delivery.
3.
The whole amount
(16 weeks salary) within 3
days of proof of delivery.

Amount to be paid

Total wages/ salary earned


during the preceding 3 months
prior to availing leave divided
by the number of days
actually worked (during that
period)

Same

No changes

Denial of eligibility

1.
Those who have
worked less than 6 months

Those who have


not completed 9
months of active
service with current
employer

A major step in
benefit provision of
limiting to two
children only

2.
Those who have 2
or more surviving children,
they can avail other leave(s)sick/ annual/casual etc.

Reason for concern: no

practice, only paper laws

A survey by Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (2010) on ready-made


garments (RMG) and construction industries showed that factories do not
provide maternity leave for four months and most establishments give
maternity leave only without pay. The survey exposed that female workers

many times do not want to bear child because of fear of losing their job as
majority end up being fired by their employers when they become pregnant, or
sent on leave without pay (BILS, 2010). While the public sector workers are
privileged, where most recently the maternity leave period has been extended
to 6 months or 24 weeks, the situation is much worse in the largest
manufacturing sector of the country, the garments sector which is the largest
employer of women.
Survey by War on Want (2011) on 988 garments workers reveals 50% of the
interviewed for this report stated that some form of maternity leave is provided
at their workplace. However, 48% had been denied the benefit. Also, two
thirds of the women interviewed were unaware of the full legal entitlement to
maternity leave. Only 24% were aware of the proper maternity benefits they
deserved. Many workers also had to look for new jobs after giving birth or
return to the same factory at a lower grade, as they did not know their legal
rights to return to the same grade they held before their maternity leave.
So, the issues are non-compliance to the provisions of the laws relating to
maternity benefits in the private sector, specially the RMG sector. But there
are various reasons behind this phenomenon as discussed below.
Breach of equity in the name of profitability
The sectors which have seen the boom in business since the 1980s (mainly
RMG) have been attributed to being promoters social change for women.
Although neo-liberal policies have generally led to greater feminization of the
labour market, they may also have had adverse effects on women; that is, on
the demand side, firms employ women simply because they represent a
submissive pool of cheap labour an issue that is often entwined with the
element that as Standing (1999) said the relatively few women who
participate in the labour market often remain confined to the ranks of the socalled vulnerable employed (Standing, 1999).
In Bangladesh, availability of such a large pool of cheap labour meant that
manufacturers moved away from the traditional core worker model and leaned
towards the more contingent worker models. Irregular wage, overtime and

bonus payments have long been and remain one of the most significant
problems workers face in the industry including women. All of this has meant
that until recently, few women garments workers worked longer than five
years (Hossain, 2011). Variations in maternity leave provision across
factories/industries and a lack of awareness of workers rights mean that this
basic entitlement of employee equity has long been breached. Such
malpractice from employers clearly violates a component of the equity
dimension balancing work and non-work needs (Befort and Budd, 2009).
War on Wants survey (2011) showed that 50% still had to work overtime
while pregnant, 29% had suffered humiliating treatment at the hands of their
employers while they were pregnant, and 24% had been denied sick leave
during pregnancy (War on Want, 2011). More recently, BGMEA (the apex body of the
garments makers and exporters) submitted their opinion on matern ity leave to the labour
ministry for consideration and proposed introduction of 12 weeks or 84 days of
maternity leave for female workers in the garments industries citing the
example of India, Nepal and Indonesia. Their objection is that 24 weeks
maternity leave for female workers of garment industry would increase birth
rate in the country. This goes to show the other side of the coin, as employers
are still concerned with cost saving and profit maximization but fail to see the
positive effects of workplace efficiency through enhancing/ improving
employment relationships.
All the dimension of inequity comes together for these workers. They are
trapped in an inadequate employment relationship where low wages, lack of
paid leave (including maternity leave and benefits), no retirement benefits (not
in private sector) and other entitlements (like insurance, which are almost nonexistent in Bangladesh) making it exceedingly difficult for these workers to get
ahead.
Lack of employee voice
Employee voice is an essential element in the modern employment society but
in case of Bangladesh, apart from the public sector and a few industries where
multinationals operate (pharmaceuticals, FMCG, etc.) there is little objection

from employees/workers to such abject exploitation. There are two main


reasons, one is the failure of the civil organizations (unions) and second,
these workers were the first generation rural migrants to the city who lacked
any knowledge of workers rights (Rahman, 2011). Also, in Bangladesh, where there
is seemingly unlimited supply of female labour in search of jobs in the garments,
construction and other sectors, women are particularly very cautious about
making demands or taking steps that might endanger their employment and
the costs they may incur if they were to try to do so, that prevent the majority
of women workers from standing up for their rights.
In this advent, when we analyse the four dimensions of employee voice for
women workers in Bangladesh, there is hardly any notion of free speech
rights, participation in decision making, and consultation and social dialogue.
In Bangladesh, the overwhelmingly male-dominated trade unions rarely have
been willing to take up womens issues. But there is change coming, as a
number of the more progressive unions have sought to set up womens
wings which deal more sensitively with women workers (Kabeer and Mahmud
2004b: 153 as cited in Hossain, 2012). Trade unions were prohibited in the
EPZs until the 2004 EPZ. A survey by Kabeer and Mahmud (2004) found that
only 5 per cent of EPZ garment workers, 1 per cent of export garment
workers outside the EPZs and none of the non-garment informal-economy
women workers reported the presence of a trade union at their place of work
(Kabeer and Mahmud 2004). Hence, a slow development in countervailing
collective voice can be seen.
Recommendations: Need

for a common policy, more voice and equity

In Bangladesh, the employment relationship across industries can be


characterised as having a weak voice (weak unions and protection for
individuals), weak in terms of equity (due to high inequality in practice of
standards) but high in efficiency (hardly any government interference, easy
hire and fire). Although, the boom in these industries have given women the
freedom and economic independence, collectively, these working women are
worse off than their rural sisters (Ahmed, 2004).

Following are some proposed modifications/steps that might assist to balance


the negativities:
Introducing a common Maternity Benefit Provision for all working
women
While extending the maternity leave provisions of public servants to 6 months
(24 weeks) the government has ignored the private sector where most
irregularities are prevalent (The Daily Star, Dec 19, 2010). Rather, it should be
universal for employed women in all sectors. The maternity law should be
reviewed and should not be used as an excuse for employing women on
short-term basis. Also, the fines for breaching the law should be increased as
it is only a minimal amount.
Ensuring welfare facilities for women in the workplace as an equity
measure
In Bangladesh, only a handful of organisations have recently started to offer their female employees onsite child care, although this is a requirement as per law. Such additional welfare measures can create a
more equitable workplace and increase employee loyalty. Such arrangements can be also made with
assistance from donor organizations and community day care centres can be established in factory sites.

Facilitating Countervailing Voice through unions & social partners


Women workers need to realize that the only way they can share / convey
their requirements to employers or to the state is through a collective voice,
i.e. through unions. Thanks to the efforts of different social advocacy groups
(like Ain-O Salish Kendra or ASK) women workers have not remained
untouched by the forces of change in the larger society. Intense media
coverage of their working conditions, increased attempts to mobilize them and
the involvement of a wider range of players than traditional trade unions have
helped to raise their awareness of their rights. Workers may also have
becoming less willing to put up with instances of injustice in the workplace and
recent demonstrations and strikes indicate to that (Reuters, Feb,
2012).Collective voice can improve circulation of benefits as well as support
the rights and dignity of workers.

Recently, the Textile and Garment Workers Federation, for instance is moving
towards a more ratified mode of representational principles in place of the
adversarial politics (BIDS, 2006). The Bangladesh Independent Garment
Workers Union Federation (BIGUF) and Karmojibi Nari (Working Women),
constituted of active, rather than token, women leaders has also been
extremely active and pursues a variety of strategies to organize garment
workers, visiting them, organizing cultural programs to motivate them to
engage in collective bargaining with management and providing legal
education as well as legal support during disputes with management.
International Buyers need to enforce working conditions strictly to
create equity
With absence of direct intervention from the Government, related/vested
groups should take notice of the irregularities in labour law practice including
maternity issues. Recently, prolonged efforts of trade unionists, consumers
and human rights activists/NGOs to exert pressure on buyers to take greater
responsibility for working conditions have resulted in the proliferation of codes
that garment manufacturers now have to accept before they can win an order
from these buyers. Indeed, the BGMEA/BKMEA, at least have realized that
conformity is the key to future survival in the post-MFA competitive
environment. As a result, there has been a marked improvement in health and
safety standards in the major factories as well as a range of other benefits,
such as payment on time, proper overtime, maternity leave, etc. But these are
the large establishments (with forward and backward linkage) who are more
complaint. These types of efforts are required in all sectors employing women
to create a sense of equity/ fairness in the workplace. Women in Factories, a
five year initiative by Wal-Mart is such a program in conjunction with Care
Bangladesh (PR Newswire, New York, 05 Apr 2012). As Kabeer and Mahmud
indicate, there is certainly evidence of greater compliance in the garment
sector than in other industries (Kabeer and Mahmud, 2006).
Such measures can elevate the status of women as competent workers by
enhancing their self-worth and allowing them the freedom of balancing work

and non-work needs, job security, self-determination and hence increase


equity and voice at their workplaces.
References
Ahmed, Fauzia Erfan., 2004, The Rise of the Bangladesh Garment Industry: Globalization,
Women Workers, and Voice, NWSA Journal, Volume 16, Number 2, Summer 2004, pp. 34-45
Ain o Salish Kendra, A Legal Aid and Human Rights Organization, viewed Sept 29, 2012
<http://www.askbd.org/web/>
Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, viewed Sept 29, 2012 <http://www.bbs.gov.bd>
Bangladesh Sromo Ain (The Bangladesh Labour Act), 2006, Ministry of Labour and Employment,
Bangladesh
Befort, S. F., and John Budd, 2009, Invisible Hands, Invisible Objectives: Bringing Workplace Law and
Public Policy into Focus, Stanford University Press, California.
Cagatay, Nilufer, and Sule Ozler. 1995. Feminization of the labour force: The effects of long-term
development and structural adjustment. World Development 23, (11) (11//): 1883-94.
Hossain et al., Decent Work and Bangladesh Labour Law: Provisions, Status, and Future Directions,
BIL Research and Advisory Team, April 2010
Hossain, Naomi., 2011, Exports, Equity, and Empowerment: THE Effects of Ready Made
Garments Employment on Gender Equality in Bangladesh, World Development Report,
Background Paper.
International comparison of maternity leave benefits, Viewed September 30, 2012
<http://www.hreoc.gov.au/sex_discrimination/paid_maternity/pml/report/appendb.pdf>
Kabeer, N. and S. Mahmud, 2004: Globalization, Gender and Poverty: Bangladeshi Women Workers in
Export and Local Markets, Journal of International Development, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp. 93109
Nirmalendu Dhar, (2007). Dhar on Labour and Industrial Laws of Bangladesh,Remisi Publishers, Dhaka
Rahman, Zia., Labour Unions and Labour Movements in the Readymade Garment Industry in Bangladesh
in the era of globalization (1980-2009), 2011,University of Calgary, Ottawa, Canada
RMG Workers Demand Maternity Leave, New Age Bangladesh, January 29, 2004
Standing, Guy. 1999. Global feminization through flexible labour: A theme revisited. World
Development 27, (3) (03//): 583-602.
Stitched up, Women workers in the Bangladeshi garment sector, August 2011

viewed September 24, 2012 <http://www.waronwant.org/about-us/publications&gt;


Syed S. Andaleeb, Gretchen Vanneman Wolford, (2004),Participation in the workplace: gender
perspectives from Bangladesh, Women In Management Review, Vol. 19 Iss: 1 pp. 52 64
Turning the tide of RMG labour unrest , The Financial Express, June 20, 2012, viewed September 29,
2012 <http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/&gt;
Working women in Bangladesh to enjoy 6 months of paid maternity leave. (2011, Jan 11). Xinhua News Agency CEIS.

Retrieved from & viewed October 4, 2012http://ezproxy.library.usyd.edu.au/login?


url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/837540791?accountid=14757;
Wal-Mart launches ground breaking initiative to empower women working in factories in India,
Bangladesh, China and Central America. (2012, Apr 05). PR Newswire.
Retrieved from & viewed October 4, 2012http://ezproxy.library.usyd.edu.au/login?
url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/965144908?accountid=14757;