Jute Protection Committee (JPC) yesterday urged the government to modernise state mills' decade-old machinery, saying their production capacity has fallen almost 40 percent causing losses every year.
The policy and advocacy platform also demanded providing arrears of workers and retirement benefits as well as purchasing jute directly from growers during the harvest season.
“Absence of modern technology is the main problem for mills. Old machines should be modernised to save the mills and the jute sector,” said Shahidullah Chowdhury, president of JPC, at a press conference at Dhaka Reporters Unity in the capital.
Chowdhury, also a veteran labour leader, suggested speeding up the Balancing, Modernisation, Rehabilitation and Expansion (BMRE) initiatives under a memorandum of understanding signed between Bangladesh and China in 2014 to improve productivity of 28 state mills, including 25 from the jute sector.
JPC General Secretary Khalid Hossain said a government allocation of Tk 5,000 crore would be enough to modernise all jute mills under Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation and clear the arrears and retirement benefit.
Productivity has fallen because the machinery and equipment were installed during the 1950s, said Hossain, adding that the government should take steps to protect the interests of growers and workers.
“Workers' wages of up to eight weeks have become due. Many former workers have not got retirement benefits yet,” he said, urging the government to meet the 11-point demand of the state jute mill workers.
Jute mill workers have been agitating for a pay commission for the last couple of months and sought a one-off payment of due dearness allowances and weekly arrears.
Hossain said a government allocation of Tk 250 crore would clear due wages and pension benefits of workers.
“We saw in the past that mills incurred losses mainly because raw jute was not bought on time. It is possible to save 28 percent of the production cost if jute is purchased during the harvesting period,” he said.
“A lot of time is wasted in allocating funds for jute purchase,” said Hossain, blaming corruption in the purchase process.
The JPC also demanded reopening a second unit of Adamjee Jute Mills and full implementation of compulsory packaging of food grain and various commodities by jute to increase domestic demand for the natural fibre.