Sramik Karmachari Oikya Parishad
Sramik Karmachari Oikya Parishad (SKOP) the mainstream trade union movement in the country established in a joint meeting of the top leaders of 12 national trade unions in Dhaka on 13 April 1983. It was, in fact, the turning point in Bangladesh trade union movement at a time when normal trade union activities had been banned by the then military government.
In mid 1982, when the country was under martial law, leaders of 5 national trade union federations got united for the restoration of the workers' rights. By the end of 1982, the number of national federations in the group increased to 11. They prepared a 5-point charter of demands and submitted it to the Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA). On 6 December, Bangladesh Jatiyatabadi Sramik Dal (BJSD) submitted their 8-point charter of demands to the CMLA. In April 1983, the 11 federations and BJSD joined hands and established SKOP. They revised the 5-point charter of demands after considering some points from the 8-point charter of BJSD. On 13 April 1983, top leaders of the 12 national federations announced the formation of SKOP at a press conference in Jatiya Press Club and made the revised 5-point charter of demands public. They submitted these demands to the CMLA with a notice to resort to strike if these were not met. Since then SKOP has been on the forefront of the trade union movement of the country. SKOP movement got support from all political parties and other social organisations. In mid 1983, the Jatiya Sramik League, the labour front of the awami league, also joined SKOP.
Trade unions, which were not affiliated with any of the component federations of SKOP, also participated in the programmes declared by SKOP. Any strike called by SKOP was supported by the workers at large all over the country. Initially, the military government of General Ershad tried to ignore SKOP and termed it to be an illegal organisation, but subsequent success of SKOP strikes forced the government to recognise it as the representative body of the working class of the country. The then prime minister ataur rahman khan held several meetings with SKOP leaders along with industries Minister Golam Mostafa and labour and manpower minister Air Vice Marshal (Rtd) Aminul Islam. Finally, in the face of a threat of 48-hour nationwide strike the government signed an agreement with SKOP on 21 May 1984.
The agreement provided for: (a) re-establishment of trade union rights; (b) job security of union leaders; (c) no officer of a union is to be transferred without his or her consent; (d) registration of a union cannot be cancelled without prior permission of the labour court; (e) the workers shall continue as union leaders even when they are sacked from the job by the employer; (f) ex-workers can become union leaders in the establishment where they worked; (g) termination benefit to be raised from 90 days to 120 days for regular workers and from 45 days to 60 days for temporary workers; (h) general members can lodge cases against termination like union leaders; (i) dismissed workers to get full benefit of provident fund and gratuity; (j) labour court to review cases of dismissal; (k) all workers to be provided with letter of appointment and service book; (l) temporary workers working for more than 3 years are to be regularised; (m) all cases of loss of job during martial law are to be reviewed for re-instatement; (n) arrested workers and leaders shall be released; (o) 30% DA to be allowed with arrear from July 1982 in the public sector, and the government would try to ensure the same benefit in the private sector with effect from January 1984; (p) additional 30% DA to all workers under Pay and Wages Commission from 1 June 1984; (q) advance of taka 500 paid to workers is to be treated as grant; (r) minimum pay or wage shall not be less than taka 460; (s) there would be workers representative in the Wages Commission; (t) gratuity to be increased from 14 days' wages to 30 days' wages; (u) the workers who have not been allowed festival bonus under pay commission will get the same.
The government implemented most of the terms through necessary amendments to the Industrial Relations Ordinance of 1969 and the Employment of Labour (Standing Orders) Act of 1965. However, the government changed the agreed principle in respect of benefits to be allowed to the dismissed workers, and failed to influence the employers in the private sector to allow their workers similar wages as was allowed to workers in the state owned enterprises.
SKOP had to go on industrial actions against the government in realising their demands for proper and timely implementation of the agreement signed on 21 May 1984, till the end of the rule of jatiya party. The SKOP, however, had to overcome several setbacks during 1984-86. In 1984, the main stream of Bangla Sramik Federation led by Kazi Zafar Ahmed and Bangladesh Workers Federation led by Sirajul Hossain Khan left SKOP when both became ministers in Ershad government. Ruhul Amin Bhuiyan of Jatiya Sramik Jote and Shah Md. Abu Zafar of Jatiya Sramik League, along with a large number of their supporters joined the Jatiya Party in late 1984 and 1986 respectively. In 1986, SKOP had a formal rift when some of the political parties struggling against the military government decided to participate in the parliamentary election under Ershad and some decided not to. However, by the end of 1987 the differences between the parties were over and the same happened in the SKOP rank and file.
During 1991-95, SKOP undertook several agitation programmes to press home the 5-point charter of demands submitted to the previous government. In the process of movement the government entered into agreement with SKOP on 21 December 1991 and again on 6 July 1992. Due to the fact that some of the issues settled by the agreement were not fulfilled and because of some new problems cropped up, SKOP placed a fresh 8-point charter of demands to the government on 12 January 1995 and entered into dialogue with the government. Before any decision could be reached, there was change of government and the Awami League came to power in 1996. SKOP continued its movement on the 8-point demands including implementation of previous agreements. SKOP observed strike on 31 July 1997, and after long deliberations entered into agreement with the government on 20 January 1998. But, as usual, SKOP had to observe another strike on 26 May 1999 demanding implementation of the agreement signed on 20 January 1998. Nothing positive happened, and SKOP called for a 24-hour all-out strike in the country on 20 July 1999.
The major issues settled through agreements during BNP and Awami League governments include: a) fixation of national minimum wages; b) implementation of recommendations of the wages commission; c) updating the labour laws; d) re-instatement of sacked workers including bank employees; e) implementation of awards of the minimum Wage Board and (f) implementation of previous agreements.
At present, SKOP represents the as many as sixteen national centres of trade unions in the country, which constitute more than 90% of the workforce organised by the national trade union movement. [Nazrul Islam Khan]