Agriculture is the largest sector of employment in Bangladesh. Although the share of agriculture in gross domestic product (GDP) has declined from over half at the time of independence to around one fifth currently, it remains the predominant sector in terms of employment and livelihood, with about half of Bangladesh’s workforce engaged in it as the principal occupation. One of the specific characteristics of the agricultural sector is the lack of clear-cut distinctions between different categories of workers, farmers, tenant and sharecroppers. Besides, there is a wide range of landownership patterns and methods of cultivation related with livelihoods of agriculture workers. Consequently, there are numerous types of labor relations and different forms of labor force participation are in practice in agriculture.
It is difficult to define agriculture labor like industrial labor. Difficulties in defining agricultural labor are compounded by the fact that many small and marginal farmers also work partly on the farms of others to supplement their income. They are comprised from landless, functional landless, sharecropper and marginal farmers and constitute the majority of the rural population.
With rapid rural to urban migration, absentee land ownership has been growing. The medium and large land owners are leaving farming as agriculture is not profitable due to high cost of input and low cost of crops. Consequently, tenancy markets are increasing and agriculture laborers are becoming share croppers. The sharecropping is unfeasible, but the agriculture laborers are choice-less, entrapped in loss making agriculture to ensure food security of the household for certain months of the year. They are also deprived from government services in agriculture due to policy and practice gaps.
Besides, majority of the agriculture laborers have secondary occupation, and majority of them are pulling van/rickshaw. In addition with seasonal migration for agriculture work, the agriculture laborers migrate in off season to towns/cities and engage in different informal sectors like rickshaw pulling, construction work.
The agriculture laborers of Bangladesh are most neglected in society; seasonal unemployment, underemployment, irregular employment, low wage, seasonal hunger and poverty are manifested in the daily lives and livings of the agriculture laborers. They are deprived and neglected section in the rural power structure; they are excluded from labor rights, education, health and basic social services. They are trapped in unequal social relation that there is no or very limited opportunity for upward social and economic mobility. The agricultural laborers are both extreme and chronic poor.
This study is to explore the status of agriculture workers of Bangladesh for promotion of rights and social protection of agriculture workers through collective initiatives.