Left unpaid, living in misery
Around 34,000 temporary and substitute workers of state-run jute mills shut down in July last year have been living a miserable life as they are yet to get their dues.
The government promised to clear their payments "within the shortest possible time" when it closed all the 25 jute mills, citing heavy losses and excessive production costs.
Around 31,000 of the total 34,757 permanent workers have received their dues and the rest have not -- because of problems with their paperwork, said Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) Chairman Abdur Rouf yesterday.
"And fifty percent of around 21,000 temporary and substitute workers will receive their arrears in their bank account by 5:00pm today [yesterday]," he told this correspondent.
Contacted around 6:00pm, workers' leader Ruhul Amin said, "Only a few hundred workers of Amin Jute Mills, Karim Jute Mills, Latif Bawani Jute Mills and UMC Jute Mills received their arrears today."
The payment started for only four out of 25 state run jute mills, he added.
It was only on July 13, the finance ministry allocated Tk 212.08 crore to pay the arrears of 21,552 temporary and substitute workers of the jute mills.
But many aggrieved workers feared that they would not receive anything before the Eid-ul-Azha.
Due to the long wait for dues and without any stable job for one year during the coronavirus pandemic, many of these workers have been begging to earn a square meal, while many others are working as day labourers.
"I have applied to hundreds of offices in the last one year for a job but I was denied from the door. I am now working as a day labourer in Khulna railway station," Imran Ahmed, a temporary worker at Platinum Jubilee Jute Mill, told The Daily Star yesterday.
"Even as a porter I cannot earn daily as people do not travel much due to this pandemic and lockdown."
He said his ailing father died in March this year due to lack of proper treatment.
"The mill authority owes me at least Tk 200,000 but I could not get that money even one year after closure of the mill. Had I got the money last year, I could have arranged better treatment for my father who required a cardiac surgery," said Imran.
Md Badrul Alam, a sexagenarian temporary worker of Khulna's Star Jute Mills used to be an expert sewing operator. However, he now begs for his daily sustenance in Mill gate bazar.
His son Hasan Alam, a rickshaw puller in the city, said, "We never thought that one day my father would beg and I would pull rickshaw in the city. If the mill authorities would pay my father in time, he could have established a shop or any small business and pay for my education."
Hasan cannot earn much by pulling rickshaw. "I have two other younger siblings. Last year, I was supposed to be enrolled at grade nine. I don't think I will ever continue my education again," he added.
According to BJMC sources, the organisation owes non-permanent workers Tk 323 crore in arrears from 2015 to 2020 and wages of 14 weeks between 2019 and 2020.
On Sunday, BJMC chairman Abdur Rouf said Tk 212.08 crore has been allocated exclusively for the arrears of 21,000 non-permanent workers.
"We have not received any allocation for the pending wages [from 2019-20] yet," he said, adding that the workers will have to submit unique ID number, token, national ID cards and, if needed, bank account details to receive the payment.
"We have disbursed the funds to the mills today [on Sunday]. I am hopeful that the mills will start to pay the workers tomorrow [yesterday]," said Abdur Rouf.
However, some workers The Daily Star talked with on Sunday said they have not been informed anything about the payment.
"I have submitted all my papers to the mill authority and they confirmed me that the papers were all in order. However, I am yet to get any information about my payment from the mill authority," said jute mill worker Imran.
Talking to this correspondent on Sunday, workers' leader Ruhul Amin said, "Previously, we had seen that BJMC announced list of workers who would receive payment. However, till now, the workers have not received any notification. So, we are still uncertain about the payment."
According to BJMC sources most of the rest 11,000 non-permanent workers have been excluded from payment list mainly due spelling mistakes with their ID cards.
"They will also get their payment gradually once the issues with their identity papers are solved," said the BJMC chairman.
Besides, payment of a few thousand permanent workers are also pending due to problems with their papers. As of July 4, BJMC has paid Tk 1664.72 crore to 31,832 permanent workers as their unpaid wages, pensions and other compensations.
However, Ruhul Amin said, "When thousands of crores of taka are laundered from Bangladesh, the government turns a blind eye on jute mill workers. It cannot pay the hard-earned wages of the workers in a single instalment. By procrastinating the payment, BJMC actually wants to retain their authority over the jute mills."
BJMC is the government body which regulates and supervises the state-run jute mills.
"Workers will not tolerate such injustice anymore," Ruhul said and
demanded clearing all dues of the jute mill workers before the Eid vacation.
"We also demand modernisation and reopening of the jute mills under state authority. Leasing out the mills to the private companies can never be an acceptable solution," added the workers' leader.