Beauty, age 25, was married at 23, works in a construction site. She has one child who is very young and she is a lactating mother. She works from 6 in the morning to 9 at night. Stops about an hour at noon and eats her lunch and breastfeeds her baby. When she asks her supervisor for a break to feed her baby, he uses abusive and offensive words. She worked full time even when she was pregnant. The night before the birth of her child she went home from work at 8pm and washed herself, taken her to bed, delivered a child, and went back to work again under the week. The construction site was very steep, and just after giving birth she had to hold by a rope to support herself, and when there is no rope, by anything one has to catch hold of. There are mainly male workers and it is very hard work for a woman.
The workplace is totally male-dominated. Many of the male workers undermine the female workers at work. It became their habits to make abusive comments about motherhood, nursing and Beauty’s working capacity even if she is a very hard-working employee. There were days she came home fed-up and depressed. She was tired of battling on, day after day in the world of men.
The working environment is also very unsafe for the workers. The floor is very wet where she works. She brings her little boy with her. When it rains terribly her clothes become wet through almost all day long. Sometimes her sister looks after her child in the day time who also works in the same site. Beauty becomes very tired when she gets home at night. She falls asleep sometimes before she can take her shower.
The working conditions in factories, industries and construction sites provoked numerous thoughts during last one decades by lawmakers and others interested groups in protecting the working environment, health, safety and morals of female workers.
The Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 (BLA2006) allows working women maternity benefits. The law even contains provisions which state rights and benefits to which a pregnant worker is entitled.
Section-45 of BLA2006 states that an employer cannot intentionally employ a woman in his establishment during the eight weeks immediately following the day of her delivery.
Moreover, a woman worker shall not work in any establishment during the eight weeks immediately following the day of her delivery.
The female workers shall not be involved in any work which is dangerous in nature during 10 weeks prior to and after the delivery.
Women workers are entitled to the payment of maternity benefit for the period of eight weeks preceding and immediately following the day of delivery.
The government has introduced Bangladesh Labour Rules 2015 through a gazette which made certain amendments in maternity law.
Rule 37 describes that no co-worker can make any remark so that a pregnant woman feels harassed mentally and physically; she will not be engaged in any risky work; she will have the right to use the lift; and, after delivery, there should be proper facilities made to support the baby’s nourishment.
International Worker’s Day, or May Day, is observed globally on May 1. The day commemorates the working class and organized labour around the world. In our country, we also celebrate the day by honouring the struggles of the working class. With that in mind, we should take this opportunity to implement the maternity laws and practice in every organization which can ensure a woman’s participation in the workforce to its utmost. After all, the wonder of each and every life begins in the womb of a mother.
Miti Sanjana is a Barrister-at-law from Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn and an Advocate of Supreme Court of Bangladesh and an activist.