Paralegals facilitate swift remedy for work-related grievances and disputes

Feature | Dhaka | 17 June 2021
25 trade union activists completed a paralegal training organised by ILO, WRC and University of Dhaka © ILO
DHAKA (ILO News) – Soriya Akter Sukhi (26) is a young trade union activist at Mukta Garment Sramik Federation. In 2019, Sukhi was nominated by her organisation to participate in a paralegal training course organised by the ILO’s SDIR Project in collaboration with the Workers Resource Centre (WRC), International Training Centre of the ILO (ITCILO) and Centre of Advanced Legal Studies (CALS) of the University of Dhaka.

Funded by the Governments of Denmark and Sweden, the paralegal course included three phases of capacity building activities - a 10-day intensive residential training, followed by a hands-on internship programme for three months and several follow-up training sessions. At the end of the rigorous training, the participants undertook written and oral assessments to qualify for certification.

Soriya Akter Sukhi supported over 50 labour compliants after completing the paralegal training © ILO
While undertaking the course, Sukhi confidently handled a case in which 400 workers of a ready-made garment factory had been terminated and denied payment of wages and other legal benefits. While the discharged workers demonstrated in front of the factory gate for four days, Sukhi continued facilitating dialogue with the factory management to resolve the conflict. Eventually, an agreement was reached between the two parties for the payment of lawful compensation for the affected workers.

Along with Sukhi, 25 trade union activists have completed the paralegal course which ran from November 2019 until March 2021. The graduates received their certificates in a virtual ceremony on 17th June 2021.

Under the supervision of professional lawyers engaged by trade unions, these newly trained paralegals will guide and support the resolution of labour disputes at enterprise level through mediation. If an event escalates and has to be referred to national authorities, the paralegals will work through the trade union federations to support dispute resolution mechanisms such as conciliation and arbitration.

On successful completion of the internship and as part of the hand-on component of the course, the paralegals have already attended 721 labour complaints involving approximately 13,000 workers (52% women, 48% men). Of these cases, the trainees facilitated the settlement of 478 complaints (66%) related to illegal suspension from work, forced resignation, reinstatement at work, settlement of wage issues, maternity leave and benefits among other issues which benefitted approximately 11,000 workers. In only 121 cases (17%), the complainants were referred to follow the dispute settlement mechanism of the national labour administration system consisting of Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, Department of Labour and Labour Courts.

“It is encouraging to see the success rate of the paralegals,” said Kutubuddin Ahmed, Chairperson of the Workers Resource Centre (WRC), a joint platform of two leading worker organizations. “The paralegals will work under the umbrella of WRC to support the settlement of labour complaints related to industrial relations, unfair labour practices and anti-union discrimination. There are approximately 19,000 cases pending for disposal at the level of Labour Courts and Labour Appellate Tribunal. The paralegals have been trained to act on labour issues as soon they learn of such complaints. They will help to guide and assist the settlement of these disputes which will ultimately reduce the case load in our labour justice system.”

“I congratulate the paralegal course graduates for their dedication and hard work,” said Tuomo Poutiainen, Country Director of ILO Bangladesh. “Their contribution will foster the development of harmonious labour-employer relations in the country and alleviate the work of the heavily-burdened labour courts.”

Along with her activism and raising a young family, Sukhi is pursuing a Bachelor of Law degree. She said the paralegal training equipped her with a solid understanding of basic labour law, core international labour standards and improved skills in communication and counselling. “As a paralegal, I have supported the resolution of more than 50 labour complaints so far. I would like to become a lawyer so that I can bring ‘sukh’ (happiness) in the lives of underprivileged workers.”