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November 1, 2023

The Potential of Alternative Dispute Resolution in Resolving Labor Disputes in Bangladesh

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Introductory Remarks
Labour disputes are a prevalent occurrence in many countries, including Bangladesh. These disputes can disrupt industrial harmony, hinder economic development, and negatively impact the lives of workers and employers equally.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in using Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) techniques to resolve labor disputes more effectively and efficiently. This blog investigates the prospect of ADR in resolving labour disputes in Bangladesh, analyzing its potential benefits, challenges, and the way forward.
Understanding ADR within the context of labor law

Alternative Dispute Resolution incorporates numerous methods of resolving conflicts outside of traditional court litigation. Mediation, arbitration, negotiation, and conciliation are common Alternative Dispute Resolution methods that focus on finding mutually agreeable solutions rather than adversarial outcomes. ADR is renowned for its adaptability, secrecy, and capacity to preserve relationships.

Article 32 of the Bangladeshi Constitution guarantees justice for all in regards to the equal right to life and personal liberty. Furthermore, Article 27 ensures equality before the law and equal protection under the law. However, justice is not always established as a result of extreme strain on the court, lengthy procedures, and an insufficient number of judges. Currently, there are million cases pending, which may increases day by day.

Thus, the judicial procedure is failing to solve all of these cases at a time. This has necessitated the implementation of alternative measures. The concept of Alternative Dispute Resolution was first implemented in Bangladesh in 1985 in the Family Court Ordinance under section 11-13 to solve a dispute between parties. This resulted in the 2003 amendment of the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) to include Alternative Dispute Resolution in sections 89A-89C. Although the procedure was initially sluggish, its prevalence in civil matters increased over time.

In 2006, Government of Bangladesh enacted Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 to resolve industrial disputes and to promote industrial peace and establish a harmonious and cordial relationship between labour and capital by means of conciliation, mediation and adjudication.

The Act states about some non-adjudicatory as well as adjudicatory authorities. Non-adjudicatory consists of bipartite negotiation, Conciliation and Arbitration while adjudicatory authorities include Labour Court, Labour Appellate Tribunal, etc.

The Labour Act of 2006, section 33, outlines the procedure for submitting a complaint by a worker. Parliament intended for Section 33 to permit the parties to settle the dispute amicably prior to submitting a lawsuit. This section states that if any labour has any complain regarding lay-off, retrenchment, dismissal, removal, or termination benefit and wants to get a remedy under the Act, then he must make a written complaint stating the required reason of complaint to the employer within thirty (30) days of removal/ being aggrieved.

The employer is required to investigate the matter of the complaint within fifteen (30) days of receiving the complaint, to summon the affected workers, and to make a decision based on the investigation and summons of the matter, and to inform the affected workers of the decision, unless otherwise specified. If the labour is dissatisfied with the employer’s decision or if the employer fails to take a decision within thirty (30) days from the date of the complaint, then the labour may file a complaint with the labour court within thirty (30) days of the conclusion of the procedure outlined in subsection (2).

The labour court shall, after receiving the complaint, shall summon both parties and determine as necessary and for the establishment of justice. If either party (employer or employee) is dissatisfied with the decision or verdict of the labour court, they may file an appeal with the Appellate Tribunal within thirty days of the labour court’s decision, and the Appellate Tribunal’s decision shall be final.

In high-level cases, however, the aggrieved party prefers to file a Writ Petition with the Honourable High Court Division, which can then be appealed to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. Consequently, the judicial procedure under section 33 of the Labour Act is time-consuming, expensive, and potentially inconvenient as well.

In many instances, the expenses outreach the demand. If this process is addressed in an alternative manner outside court, it would not have squandering of time, and the decision will be balanced for both parties. In this regard section 210 of the labour law states about alternative measure of solving dispute.

The section states that if an employer or CBA (Collective Bargaining Agent) observes that an industrial dispute between employers and workers is likely to occur, then the employer or CBA must communicate its views in writing to the other party. Parties are first permitted to negotiate the issue and reach an agreement among themselves.

If the parties are unable to reach a settlement within 30 days of their initial meeting, any party may refer the matter to an authorized conciliator within 15 days. The conciliator fails to resolve the dispute within 30 days of referral (can be extended), the conciliator may propose dispute settlement through arbitration.

The arbitrator must issue a decision within 30 days of referral, unless the parties agree to an extension. The award of the Arbitrator shall be conclusive and binding.

The Present State of Labor Conflicts in Bangladesh

Bangladesh has a significant labor-intensive economy, with key contributors including textiles, garments, and manufacturing. However, disputes over wages, working conditions, and labour rights are not uncommon. The conventional legal procedure for resolving labour disputes often suffers from delays, backlogs, and lack of familiarity with the complexities of labour issues.

Opportunities for Alternative Dispute Resolution in Bangladesh

ADR methods are typically more expedient than traditional litigation, resulting in timely resolutions to labor disputes. This is essential for upholding productivity and industrial harmony.Cost-Effectiveness: The cost of court proceedings can be burdensome for employers and employees alike. Alternative Dispute Resolution methods are often more cost-effective, making them accessible to a broader spectrum of constituents.

Confidentiality: Alternative Dispute Resolution ensures confidentiality, which can encourage frank dialogue between parties without fear of public disclosure, thus preserving relationships.Alternative Dispute Resolution permits tailor-made solutions that can address the particular requirements and concerns of the parties involved. This flexibility can contribute to more sustainable resolutions.

Problems with ADR Implementation in Bangladesh

Awareness and Education: Alternative Dispute Resolution is a relatively novel concept in the Bangladeshi labor market. There is a need for awareness campaigns and training programs to familiarize stakeholders with ADR methods and their benefits.Institutional Capacity: Establishing well-functioning Alternative Dispute Resolution institutions and training competent mediators and arbitrators is essential for effective implementation.

Cultural and Socioeconomic Factors: Labor disputes often involve power imbalances and cultural dynamics that may hinder the success of Alternative Dispute Resolution. Addressing these factors is crucial for the acceptance of ADR methods.

Moving Forward

Legal Framework: Develop a comprehensive legal framework that encourages the use of ADR in labour disputes and specifies the enforceability of ADR agreements.

Invest in training programs to create a pool of competent mediators, arbitrators, and conciliators who are familiar with labour issues and cultural sensitivity.

Launch awareness campaigns aimed at employees, employers, and legal professionals to promote the benefits of ADR and dispel misunderstandings.

Establish specialized ADR centres for labour disputes, ensuring efficient case administration and adherence to ethical standards.

The conclusion

The prospect of Alternative Dispute Resolution in resolving labour disputes bears promise for Bangladesh’s labour-intensive economy. By incorporating ADR methods, the country can potentially reduce the backlog of cases, enhance industrial harmony, and better the lives of workers and employers. However, successful implementation requires a concerted effort to overcome obstacles, raise awareness, and construct the required institutional framework.


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