Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus convicted for violation of labour law in Bangladesh

An insight into the case filed against Grameen Telecom in the Labour Court 

Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus

Dr. Muhammad Yunus sentenced to six months of imprisonment by the Labour Court in Bangladesh

Mr. S.M. Arifuz Zaman, Labour Inspector (General), Department of Inspection, Factories and Establishment, Dhaka lodged a complaint, being B.L.A (Criminal) Case No. 228 of 2021, on 20.08.2021 with the 3rd Labour Court, Dhaka alleging that in course of inspection of Grameen Telecom Company (hereinafter referred to as GTC) he found infringements of the following provisions of the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 (hereinafter BLA, 2006) and the Bangladesh Labour Rules, 2015-

1. On completion of probationary period, the jobs of workers and employees are not made permanent in violation of section 4(7)(8) of the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 

2. Workers and Employees are not granted annual leave with pay or money against earned leave in violation of section 117 of the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006, and 

3. Workers' Profit Participation Fund (WPPF) and Labour Welfare Fund were not constituted and 5% of the net profit of the GTC was not deposited in above funds under the Labour Welfare Foundation Law, 2006. 

The complainant sent a letter by registered post to the GTC vide Memo No.3982/(Uma)/Dhaka on 01.03.2020 to refrain from infringing the aforesaid provisions of labour law and to ensure compliance with the Labour Act. The GTC sent a letter of compliance on 09.03.2020 which was found to be not satisfactory. 

On the direction of the higher authority, the complainant again inspected GTC on 06.08.2021 and found violations of the said provisions of labour law and thus sent another letter on 19.08.2021 to GTC who again provided a reply but the explanation provided was unsatisfactory. 

Subsequently, the learned Judge of the Labour Court examined the complainant under section 200 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and took cognizance of offence against Dr. Muhammad Yunus and 3 other accused persons under sections 303 (Uma) and 307 of the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 for violation of the provisions of section 4(7)(8), 117 and 234 of the Labour Act, 2006.

Thereafter, the 3rd Labour Court, Dhaka on 06.06.2023 framed charge against the accused persons under sections 303 (Uma) and 307 of the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006.

Upon taking evidence and hearing argument or closing submissions from the counsels for the complainant and accused persons, the Judge of the 3rd Labour Court, Dhaka convicted Dr. Muhammad Yunus and other persons under section 303 (Uma) of the BLA, 2006 and imposed a fine of Tk. 5,000/- and further convicted the accused persons under section 307 of the BLA, 2006 and imposed a fine of Tk. 25,000/- vide judgement and order dated 01.01.2024. 

The accused persons who have been convicted under two penal provisions of the BLA, 2006 has the right to prefer an appeal within 60 (sixty) days to the Labour Appellate Tribunal under section 217 of the BLA, 2006. It is apt to mention that the accused persons have been granted bail for 30 (thirty) days on condition of preferring an appeal pursuant to section 426 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

The main submission of the counsels for Professor Dr. Muhammad Yunus is that the Labour Court established by the Bangladesh Labour Ain, 2006 possesses the powers of Civil Court, Criminal Court and Mediator and provides remedy mainly by monitory compensation. Subjecting an owner or director of a company to criminal prosecution is an exception and last resort. No such criminal prosecution is permissible without exhausting the civil remedies available under above Ain. Chapter-19 of the above Ain defines offence, sentence and procedure but in above Chapter of the Ain the infringements of the provisions of section 4(7)(8), 117 and 234 have not been defined as criminal offences nor any sentence has been provided for their alleged infringements. 12. If a labour is not made permanent by the owner or director of the company then the law automatically makes him permanent pursuant to section 4(8) of the above Ain. Alleged infringement of the provisions of section 234 for non establishment of Labour Participation Fund and Labour Welfare Fund sufficient remedy has been provided in section 236 of the above Ain and the money payable for above funds can be realized by imposition of fine or sale of the property of the company through Public Demands Recovery Act, 1913. As far as infringements of section 117 of above Ain by not granting annual leave with pay or encashment of leave are concerned remedy has been provided in sub-section (7) of above Section. Section 117 (7) provides that if a labour files an application for above leave and the same is rejected then above leave will be added to his annual leave. Since the violations of Sections 4, 117 and 134 of the BLA, 2006 have been sufficiently compensated by alternative civil remedy the Complainant committed serious illegally in lodging above Complaint without exhausting civil remedies. The accused persons have earlier moved to the High Court Division challenging the concerned proceedings of the Labour Court but was unsuccessful.

GTC which was incorporated under section 28 of the Company Act, 1994 as a non-profit company served as the franchise of Nokia Care in Bangladesh. Moreover, it has an equity stake of around 31% in the Grameen Phone, the largest mobile phone operator company in Bangladesh. Although the Grameen Telecom received a huge amount of dividend each year from Grameen Phone and also made profits from its other business activities, it did not establish a Workers' Profit Participation Fund as required by the law. In addition, a majority of workers at the GTC were given temporary appointments and their jobs were not made permanent even after completion of probationary period. It transpires that the company deliberately chose not to comply with the provisions of the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 on the contention that as a non-profit company it is not subject to the provisions of the BLA, a submission which the apex court earlier found unfounded and have no substance at all.

Earlier, hundreds of former workers and employees of the GTC have filed cases in the Labour Court against the company claiming their benefits from the WPPF. The said cases are still pending for disposal before the Labour Court.