Dr. Yunus’s Labour Law Verdict, the Senators’ Letter, and Denial of Crime

On the very first day of the New Year 2024, a labour court in Dhaka sentenced Dr. Muhammad Yunus and

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Dr. Yunus’s Labour Law Verdict, the Senators’ Letter, and Denial of Crime

On the very first day of the New Year 2024, a labour court in Dhaka sentenced Dr. Muhammad Yunus and three other Grameen Telecom Officials six months to jail finding convicted in violating a labour welfare law.

While many are calling the verdict politically motivated, certainly it is unprecedented in Bangladesh’s labour law as never in the history of Bangladesh, such a person has been convicted by any court for violating labour law. The verdict immediately before the 7th January election garnered much attention in both national and international media.

Again, after three weeks, 12 US Senators sent letter to the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina calling the sentence and other charges against the Nobel Laureate as harassment and asked for ending the prosecution. In this context, it is worth exploring the perspectives regarding the verdicts and the letter signed by the senators.

The Lawsuit

On 9th February 2020, a Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) inspection pointed out that the Grameen Telecom is engaged in a malpractice of offering contractual positions to its new employees after completing probationary period. Such prolongation of ‘temporary employment’ is depriving them from their rights availed by permanent employees.

The DIFE inspection also found that the organization does not follow proper regulation of annual leave and the contractual workers have no welfare funds and are deprived of profit-sharing. The DIFE sent a letter asking the organization to address these violations of labour law after the inspection. Later on 16th August 2021, the DIFE conducted a follow-up inspection to see the developments but was not satisfied as they found that the same violations were continuing. Subsequently, on 9th September 2021, DIFE filed a lawsuit with 3rd Labour Court.

The Proceedings

After DIFE’s lawsuit in September 2021, Dr. Yunus filed a writ petition in the High Court asking for dismissing the lawsuit. But the High Court rejected the petition and a charge sheet was filled accordingly. The Noble Laureate again filed another petition asking the charge to be dismissed. Once again the High Court rejected the petition and gave the final verdict to proceed with the lawsuit. Finally, the hearing of the lawsuit began on 16th August 2023- almost two year after the initial filing of the lawsuit.

The hearing took place for 21 working days, and the defendant lawyer got to question the plaintiff for 7 working days- an unprecedented event. For the first time in labour case proceedings in Bangladesh, Yunus’s defendant council also got the chance to present their argument for 8 working days.

After 2 year and 3 months, the labour court gave the verdict that Dr. Yunus and three other officials of Grameen Telecom is convicted of violating labour laws and sentenced them to six months simple jail term and a fine of 10000. However, the defendants will not have to serve jail term immediately as there is scope for appeal. And currently Dr. Yunus and other officials are on bail for one month against a bond of only 5000 taka each.

Many Perspectives and the Letter

Dr. Muhammad Yunus is a globally acclaimed Noble Laureate. So, the news of the lawsuit as usually garnered much international attention. Many organizations and activists took his side and urged to dismiss the cases against him. Dr. Yunus’s fellows even wrote letter to the Prime Minsiter and published it as an advertisement with hefty cost. In the same line, the senators’ have sent the letter to the Prime Minister.

As Dr. Yunus has a strong image in global arena and has strong personal network in the US, it is quite normal to pursue senators who may not be accustomed to the ground reality. For them, Dr. Yunus is a messiah of capitalism who incorporated welfare with business. As a result, the letter tends to blatantly deny the facts that the allegation against Dr. Yunus- providing contractual positions and depriving them from profit-sharing has solid base.

On the other hand, Dr. Yunus has been perceived as a collaborator of notorious ‘minus-two’ formula taking place at the hand of a quasi-military interim government in 2007. For many analysts, his formulation of ‘Nagarik Shakti’ (Citizen Power) - a political party at a tumultuous time in Bangladesh’s politics was a move to side line the two main political figures- current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and BNP chairperson- Khaleda Zia.

Even though Microcredit garnered much attention in global stage, there were also allegations of irregularities and foul play by both Grameen Bank and other microcredit lenders at root level. Profit-making and bypassing sharing regulations are also quite common in non-profit organizations in Bangladesh. In this context, Yunus’s sentence in labour law is an appreciable and landmark in the history.

Lastly, it is very much unfortunate for a Nobel Laureate to get into such uncomfortable position. And his networks should opt for a straight course in this matter rather than blatantly denying the charges brought against him. Otherwise, their efforts would only deny the rights of the workers.

Written by Shafiqul Elahi, a Retired Government Official of Bangladesh

Copyright: Fresh Angle International (www.freshangleng.com)
ISSN 2354 - 4104

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