Platinum Jute Mill's worker Eratun Khatun broke down in tears when she saw the notice declaring the permanent closure of the organisation she had been with for almost three decades.
"The mill is closed. Where will I go now? What will happen to my daughter's education? How will we earn a living, when we go back to the village," wailed the 55-year-old woman, who lives at the mill colony with her son and daughter, a college student.
The sole breadwinner, Eratun joined Platinum as a temporary worker in 1994 and became a permanent worker in 2011, making Tk 11,500 a month. Her husband, who died 11 years ago, was also a permanent worker of the mill.
Like Eratun, thousands of jute workers of the nine mills in Khulna - Jashore industrial belt -- seven in Khulna and two in Jashore -- were shocked to see the closure notices stapled at their mills' main entrances around 9pm on Thursday night.
Although the government decided to shut down 25 state owned jute mills of the country on June 25 laying off some 25,000 workers, the prime minister approved the closure on Thursday. The notices mentioning that the mills will be closed from July 1 were posted soon afterwards.
Ironically, even on July 2 around 10,326 workers worked in the nine state-owned mills of the Khulna region and the jute product produced on that day was 80 metric tons.
"Thousands of workers were still working in the mills at night [Thursday] when the notice was posted. Most did not think that the government could take such a big decision in such a short time, closing all 25 state-mills at once," said Md Mozammel Haque.
The 65-year-old man, who joined Platinum in 1978 as a temporary worker and became permanent in 1988, doubted that workers will receive the golden handshake.
"We did not even receive our Baishakhi allowance or Eid bonus," he said, adding that some workers are nevertheless happy, expecting a large sum of money.
The nine jute mills of the Khulna region employed around 8,100 permanent and 30,000 temporary workers. Only permanent workers will get the golden handshake when the mills are closed.
Boniz Uddin Miah, liaison officer of BJMC of Khulna, told The Daily Star that the mills will remain closed until further notice from the government. In the meantime, a task-force with law enforcement members and BJMC officials will be created to safeguard the mills' properties and assets.
Textiles and Jute Minister Golam Dastagir Gazi on Friday said the workers of 25 closed state-run jute mills will receive their wages for the month of June through their personal bank accounts by next week.
He gave this assurance at an urgent press briefing arranged from his residence at the capital's Siddheshwari.
"Workers will also be paid the wages of 60 days -- July and August," he said.
Fifty percent of all arrears under provident fund, gratuity and golden handshake facilities will directly go to workers' bank accounts and the rest will be paid through savings certificates, the minister said.
All the arrears will be paid under the National Wage Structure, 2015, he added, urging the BJMC to provide the bank account numbers of the workers as soon as possible for payment of the dues.
The minister said workers will get priority when the mills resume operation under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP).
Earlier on Thursday the prime minister's Principal Secretary Dr Ahmad Kaikaus said Tk 5,000 crore will be required to pay all the arrears.
He also said the 25 mills will be reopened under different types of ventures –-PPP, G2G, joint venture or lease model.
Labour leaders' response
Although the workers of the state-owned jute mills in Khulna initially threatened protest against the government's decision, they suspended their programmes on June 30th.They said they had not yet received any formal notice about the government's decision.
Sahana Sharmin, president of Platinum Jute Mill Workers' Union, alleged that the government has thwarted their movement.
She urged the government to use the money of the golden handshake for the betterment of jute mills, instead of shutting them down.
Khalilur Rahman Sumon, former CBA president of Khulna Platinum Jute Mill, said the workers did not want the jute mill to be closed permanently.
The closure of state-owned jute mills will also hurt jute farmers. The market will be under the exclusive control of jute traders who will pay a relatively low price for raw jute. Thus farmers will suffer losses and gradually lose interest in jute production.
There are around 72 private jute mills in the country including 16 in the Khulna region.