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18 January, 2019 06:15:46 PM
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Trade unions should rethink their roles

Investors or employers who provide self-respecting, gainful employment must be respected. Workers and employers are not enemies, but team-mates, except in the eyes of the certain union leadership who continue to hold onto antiquated views for their own narrow interests
Syed Mehdi Momin
Trade unions should rethink their roles

After days of unrest and agitation peace has returned to Ready Made Garment Sector, at least for the time being. Despite repeated assurances from the authorities the RMG workers at the beginning of the New Year went on a rampage and their violent agitation for several days disrupted the city traffic causing immense sufferings to commuters While we are all for workers’ right express their grievances , violence and causing suffering to general law abiding citizens cannot be justified under any circumstances.. In a self defeating exercise for the working class many  trade unionists appear hell-bent on putting out of business those who are willing to risk their capital in commercial ventures The labour unions in many the cases have become unreasonable and come up with demands only to help in the closure of the units.  It must be understood that better employer-employee relations can only ensure productivity and welfare of the workers.  Apparently welfare of the common labours is the least of their worries. They are more intent on pocketing riches through dubious means.
For years on end these leaders got patronage from vested quarters which included corrupt politicians and government officials. It is easy to understand that these people could not become so emboldened as to carry out their nefarious activities for decades without getting support from some powerful people. The transport workers have become so brazenly arrogant that an arrest of a bus helper can lead to traffic coming to a standstill in the capital for hours on end.

As a matter of fact the various trade unions have been responsible to a great extent for the failure of many public sector enterprises. Take Adamjee Jute mills for example. It was the biggest jute mill in the world and was making good profit before the trade union bosses became all powerful. They physically assaulted managers, destroyed the chain of command and created a culture where hard work and profit making became least of their concerns. A strange sense of entitlement prevailed. Nepotism and corruption was the order of the day. Labour leaders and their henchmen did not perform any labour for the mill. And we know of the gun battles between rival groups. The Chittagong Steel Mills, the pride of the country, had to suffer from the same phenomenon. Ultimate the authorities were forced to shut down both these organisations.

The scene was replicated in numerous sector corporation mills and even now the CBA (collective bargaining agents) are in many case more powerful than the general mangers. Their political overlords are only too happy to indulge them. They can address a minister as bhai (brother) while those in the management are expected to use the term ‘sir’ as many times as possible. Naturally disrespecting the officers become commonplace.

Not only is this trend seen in the manufacturing sector. The service sectors are far from immune to the arrogant and often violent attitude of the labour leaders. In a number of government medical colleges doctors were assaulted by fourth class employees’ union leaders or workers. Often even the patients and their attendants have become victims of their wrath.

Before anyone concludes that I am completely against trade unions let me assure you that is not the case. The unions are fully within their rights to press their demands on issues such as guaranteed minimum wage, maternity benefits to all workers, since these are specific to employees' welfare. But, some others, like price control of essential comm¬odities, disin¬vestment and more job crea¬tion, are larger economic issues.

For a country like Bangladesh, which is still fighting poverty and struggling to ensure basic provisions to a large section of the population, it is highly necessary to bring in foreign capital to develop further. Foreign money is a necessity here not a luxury. Also, it is unwise and regressive on the part of the trade unions to oppose foreign direct investments in critical sectors since the growth of the sectors concerns to the welfare of these very employees.

The trade union move¬ment, a good faith movement started to keep workers from getting exploited by unscrupulous employers. However in this country as well as some coun¬tries where socialist ideologies flourished trade unionism was soon taken over by a type of labour leader mafia. This mafia extorts money from both, the workers and employers. As the hunger of this beast is never sated, like all mafia, it soon raises the extortion amount to such a level that employers can no longer afford to pay, and shut down the factory/works itself.

 There is an urgent need to stand up to the trade union mafia, instead of giving it protection of law enforcement machinery. Indus¬trialisation of this country cannot be left hostage to these self-serving criminals. These unions have been cheating us workers for generations. It is time now question if there is any place of trade unionism in contemporary economy? In a liberal economy employers rarely exploit their workers because capital works hand in glove with labour to produce prosperity for owners, managers and workers. It simply makes no economic sense to have an unhappy and unproductive staff. Employers invest significant sums in the careers of their employees. They are their biggest asset and they entrust the day-to-day running of their businesses to them. The free market is built on trust and being trusted. Although unscrupulous employers exist and in the modern day economy fortunately, they go out of business sooner rather than later.

Investors or employers who provide self-respecting, gainful employment must be respected. However certain trade unionists are hell-bent on putting out of business those who are willing to risk their capital in commercial ventures. Public opinion, misguided by union propaganda, regards wage disputes as conflicts between employers and employees. It believes that employers have the power to determine wage rates without reference to the realities of the real world. The general public, and even unions, fail to understand that the boss is not sovereign in the conduct of his business. Too often, we fail to understand that the boss is subjected to the orders of the customers.

If the boss or the employer fails to keep the customer happy, the business shrinks and jobs are lost. The boss is not the real boss and he is not the real employer — it is the customer. The only way to financial security is to serve the customer better and more cheaply than your competitor.

It cannot be overemphasised that it is the customer who is the boss; he is the one who determines which business is successful, and which business goes to the wall. In the final analysis, the customer is the one who determines the level of wages; not the boss and not the union. All of this is encapsulated by the statement “thank you for your business, please come again”. The plain fact is that unions don’t go on strike against employers, or against management. They go on strike against the public (or the customer). Faced with that prospect, the wise customer goes elsewhere.

There is no other method of improving the wellbeing of workers than by the increase of new capital, and by the application of new and improved methods of working. This is the main way wages of every worker are increased, not by the confrontational methods used by unions.  It is true that workers of today are significantly better paid than they were, say, 50 years ago. The reason for that arises, not from activities of unions, but from higher productivity of the workers owing mainly to improved tools and investment by employers. Even today many unions want their members to think that capital is something possessed and deployed by a minority of greedy bankers, the idle rich or a contemptuous elite. But in a manner of speaking all workers are capitalists — every time they save and invest, own a house, buy a share in the company, contribute to a pension fund, or buy an insurance policy, they become indirectly capitalists and employers. Workers and employers are not enemies, but team-mates, except in the eyes of the union leadership who continue to hold onto antiquated views for their own narrow interests..

The writer is Senior Assistant Editor of The Independent and can be contacted at: syed.mehdi@theindependentbd.com

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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