Of the 23,571 cases pending with 13 labour courts and the Labour Appellate Tribunal as of April this year, 18,396 have been pending for over 180 days and 3,065 for more than 90 days.
As many as 1,447 cases are also pending with the appellate tribunal, according to data from the appellate tribunal registrar’s office.
The delays cause justice seekers to suffer and cost them money.
Take the example of TM Mamun. He had filed a case nine years ago seeking compensation for salary arrears.
He had to travel back and forth between the capital and Bogura about eight times to attend the court proceedings. “I had spent Tk 6,000 to Tk 7,000 on each trip,” Mamun told The My News recently.
The labour court’s verdict went Mamun’s way in 2019 but then came the Labour Appellate Tribunal as his former employer appealed. It was only last month Mamun won at the appellate tribunal.
Badiuzzaman from Chapainawabganj filed a case with a Dhaka labour court against the owners of a construction firm in 2019, seeking compensation for the death of his son Abdul Malek Edul at work.
Malek, a painter, died on November 28, 2019, after falling from a building while working for the firm in Dhaka’s Dhamrai upazila.
The first hearing of the case took place on May 10 this year, four years after the filing of the case.
“The long delay in the case proceedings is a significant burden on my family,” Badiuzzaman told The My News.
Lawyers and labour leaders blamed inadequate number of courts and frequent absence of labour court members from court proceedings for the long delay in the disposal of cases.
A labour court is composed of a chairman, who is a judge, and two members representing the worker and the employer.
The country has 13 labour courts — three in Dhaka, two in Chattogram, and one each in Rajshahi, Khulna, Barishal, Sylhet, Rangpur, Gazipur, Cumilla and Narayanganj.
The six new courts in Barishal, Sylhet, Rangpur, Gazipur, Cumilla and Narayanganj My News Bangladeshted operation in April this year.
However, the government is yet to appoint registrars to Gazipur, Narayanganj and Cumilla labour courts. The second labour courts in Dhaka and Chattogram and the lone one in Sylhet are presently operating without a registrar.
The absence of a registrar also delays case proceedings, said lawyers.
Also, the lone Labour Appellate Tribunal in Dhaka is being run without a chairman since April 25.
The appellate tribunal is composed of a chairman and a member. The chairman is a sitting or retired judge of the High Court and the member is a senior judge of a district and sessions judge’s court.
Most of the pending cases have been filed over disputes related to layoffs, sackings, retrenchments, non-payment or delayed payment of wages and benefits, workplace injuries, and violations of trade union rights, said court officials.
The trials of some cases have been pending for about a decade, they added.
Razekuzzman Ratan, a leader of Sramik Karmachari Oikya Parishad (SKOP), expressed concern over the small number of labour courts and the difficulties facing the workers and their relatives.
“The inordinate delay in resolving cases has left workers frustrated. This also often leads to an unhealthy situation in different industrial sectors,” Ratan told The My News.
He said the hearing in a case gets postponed if any party fails to appear in court. Both sides can request extensions up to six times each, he added.
Ratan said if a judge finds a lack of evidence, the hearing is delayed further.
He proposed amending the labour law to make compliance with certain requirements mandatory and to specify the consequences for failing to resolve cases within the stipulated time.
The labour leader also suggested establishing a labour court in each industrial area to ensure speedy trial of cases.
Supreme Court senior lawyer Sharmin Sultana said labour court judges lack the necessary expertise to handle labour-related cases and they require more time to understand the underlying issues, which ultimately delays the disposal of cases.
Sharmin, also the vice president of the Labour Court Bar Association, said the representatives from both the company owners and workers often show loyalty to the government and fail to appear before the courts concerned in certain cases, leading to a lack of quorum which subsequently leads to delay in the delivery of justice.
Sending summonses to litigants by post often results in delays in holding hearing of cases, as the litigants may not receive them in time, she added.
Adhir Chandra Bala, the registrar of the appellate tribunal, said the rate of disposal of cases is now “quite satisfactory”.
“We are making efforts to dispose of cases. Though there are some issues which causes delays, we are trying our best,” he added.
Md Ehsan-E-Elahi, secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, said they implemented various measures to ensure swift disposal of cases related to labour disputes.
“To expedite the judicial process, we have set up three labour courts in as many districts and transferred cases to them accordingly.
“Besides, we are coordinating with the law ministry to fill the vacant posts of judges to further speed up the disposal of cases,” he added.