Ashif Uddin (pseudonym) has been working in a grocery shop in the Oxygen area of Chattogram city for the last five years. Every day, he works 15 hours continuously whereas the shop is supposed to be closed for one and a half days a week according to the labour law.
Asif is one of about 30,000 workers in 5,500 grocery shops in Chattogram district who do not get any leave from the owners and work months after months without any leave and any payment for overtime.
In such a situation, the Shop Employees Association in Oxygen issued an application to the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (Dife) in February last year, demanding one-day weekly leave. However, the problem has not been solved yet. The organisation is expecting Dife's cooperation to arrange a weekly one-day off, said Kazi Md Roknuzzaman, the president of the organisation.
However, Dife officials said they issued notices to 15 grocery and other shops in the Oxygen area of Chattogram city on 23 February last year for not keeping the shops closed in violation of labour laws. Moreover, the shopkeepers were rude to the officials when they came to serve notices.
Shop owners would not accept the notice. As a result, Dife's Labour Inspector (General) Md Aminul Islam filed a criminal case against six shop owners in the Chattogram First Labour Court on 24 February last year.
The shops are Nuruddin Store, Bismillah Store, Abdur Rahim Store, Adnil Store, Monica Store, Manzoor Store, SS Traders, Syed Store, Chittagong Store, Butter, Rupashi Shopping Mall, Walton, Sultan Mart, Walton Plaza, and Saudi Fashion.
Mohammad Didar, owner of Adnil Store, Mohammad Javed, owner of Bismillah Store, Shariful Islam, owner of Sultan Mart, Abdur Rahim, owner of Abdur Rahim Store, Mohammad Rubel, owner of Chittagong Store and Syedul Karim, owner of Syed Store were named as defendants in the case.
Three of the six cases were settled. The court fined each shop owner Tk1,000 for violating labour laws. Even after the lawsuit, the owners of the Oxygen area grocery shop are not following the laws.
In 2017, the shop owners decided to close the shop on Friday afternoon after the 15th day of every month after signing a formal agreement, but later they moved away from this decision.
Accused shop owners said their shops remain open for seven days as other shops are open.
"We decided to close the shop half-day once a month, but some traders do not follow these instructions and the buyer goes to those shops. So, we have to move away from the previous decision," said Main Uddin, owner of Main Uddin & Brothers in the Oxygen area.
He claimed that workers are not forced to work without any leave. Rather they work based on agreements.
Syed Khurshid Alam, general secretary of the association, told TBS, "Wholesale consumer shops in Chaktai and Khatunganj have weekly holidays, but retail shops are not closed. However, we have instructed shop owners to provide one-day leave a week to the staff by rotation."
Dife Inspector General in Chattogram Abdullah Al Shakib Mubarrat told TBS that Dife is working to implement the directive to close grocery shops for one and a half days a week as per the labour law. The shop owners are being kept under surveillance in implementing the weekly leave.
Terming the denial of the one-day leave to grocery shop workers as inhumane, Mochi-ud-Daula, law and bargaining secretary of the Bangladesh Trade Union Centre and a member of the Chattogram First Labour Court, said the employees of the grocery shop could not report their plight to any trade body or government organisation for fear of losing their jobs.
If the Dife authorities had taken steps to ensure weekly leave for the workers, the workers would have been freed from the clutches of inhumanity, he added.