With a wildcat transport strike causing immense sufferings to people in at least 19 districts, businesses now brace for a blow as truck owners and workers yesterday announced an indefinite work stoppage from today, protesting the enforcement of the Road Transport Act 2018.
In a late development, owners and workers of trucks and covered vans held an hour-long meeting with Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan last night, but it ended inconclusively.
“Three of us went to his [home minister] Monipuripara residence in the capital and told him that it was not possible for us to give a decision on our programme. We will sit with him again tomorrow evening,” said Mokbul Ahmed, joint convener of Bangladesh Truck, Covered-van Goods Transport Owners-Workers Unity Council that called the work stoppage.
“Our programme will continue,” Mokbul, who led the three-member team, told The Daily Star.
Sharif Mahmud Apu, senior information officer at the home ministry, also confirmed that another meeting with the transport leaders will be held this evening.
Yesterday, transport workers in nine more districts joined the work stoppage that began in 10 districts on Monday, defying Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader’s call for them to refrain from such programmes over the new law that came into effect on Sunday.
The workers held people hostage by keeping buses off the roads -- an old tactic they often use to press home their demands -- cutting off road communications between Dhaka and at least 19 districts.
The central leaders of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, an umbrella organisation of transport workers, said they have nothing to do with the strike.
However, sources in the transport sector told this newspaper that local leaders of the federation are behind the strike.
The federation, led by Awami League Lawmaker Shajahan Khan, will clarify its stance over the new law after holding meetings on November 21-22.
Dhaka city residents too suffered for a shortage of buses whose number was thin throughout the day.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Road Transport Authority Chairman Kamrul Ahsan yesterday held a meeting with the transport leaders and sought their cooperation in implementing the new law and inending the strike.
Transport leaders placed several demands that include using the BRTA mobile courts for creating awareness for the time being instead of enforcing the law.
“We got a positive response from the transport leaders,” Kamrul told this newspaper after the meeting at the BRTA head office in the capital’s Banani.
The platform of owners and workers of trucks and covered vans enforces an indefinite strike across the country from 6:00am today to press home their nine-point demand, mostly for changes in some sections of the new act.
Announcing a work stoppage at its Tejgaon office, the platform’s convener, Rustam Ali Khan, demanded postponing the enforcement of the act until necessary amendments to it are made.
The same platform had enforced work stoppage, demanding amendments to the law in October last year, about a month after parliament passed the act.
Its demands include making accident-related cases bailable, inclusion of representatives of transport owners and workers in the investigations of accident-related cases and no arrest or harassment of vehicle owners in such cases.
The platform also demanded that all modified vehicles engaged in export-related work be allowed to operate and drivers with licences for light vehicles be allowed to operate heavy vehicles.
It also said at least six months should be given to vehicle owners and drivers to update documents, and no parking fine could be imposed until enough terminals are built on highways and other places across the country for trucks and covered vans.
Rustam, also executive president of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, said they have been demanding changes in some sections of the law and the authorities gave them assurance in this regard.
“Since the authorities didn’t keep their promises, we are going to enforce the work stoppage.
“Drivers of truck and covered vans in many areas have already gone on work stoppage … We have very little to do about it,” Rustam said.
He said only 10 to 15 percent drivers of trucks and covered vans have licences to drive heavy vehicles, and most of the vehicles were modified to carry apparel items.
When this correspondent told him that it is illegal to modify vehicles and drive heavy vehicles with licences for light vehicles, Rustam said they are making such demands “for the interest of the country”.
“The BRTA has given those vehicles fitness clearance over the years. Imposing a hefty fine now for modification is not acceptable,” he said.
The platform’s Member-secretary Tajul Islam, also vice president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, was present at the briefing. It was also attended by leaders of several unions affiliated with the federation.
After the press conference, a group of transport workers brought out a procession from Tejgaon Truck Terminal around 12:30pm and marched through the Shaheed Tajuddin Ahmed Avenue to Mohakhali Bus Stand.
On the way back to the truck stand from Mohakhali, some of the transport workers showed sandals to the members of a BRTA mobile court conducting drives on the opposite side of Tejgaon Fire Station.
Contacted, Rubana Huq, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said, “We are extremely worried [about the strike]. This is very bad news.”
With the garment sector going through a difficult time, the strike will create serious problems for exporters as foreign buyers are unwilling to wait for even a day, she told The Daily Star yesterday.
“We don’t want any unrest, any disruption… We want seamless process [ for export].”
Both the government and the transport leaders should hold talks immediately to find a solution so that the country does not face damages, she stressed.
STRIKE IN 19 DISTS
Yesterday, transport workers went on work stoppage in Mymensingh, Barishal, Pabna, Chapainawabganj, Pirojpur, Gazipur, Madaripur, Faridpur and Jhalakathi.
Earlier on Monday, the strike began in Khulna, Satkhira, Jhenidah, Narail, Kushtia, Chuadanga, Meherpur, Jashore, Rajshahi, Naogaon and Bhuapur upazila of Tangail.
In Pabna, only a few buses left for the capital but no other inter-district buses operated yesterday, causing sufferings to many.
Like every other day, Nurunnabi Khan went to the bus stand in the town to go to his workplace in Santhia upazila but found that no bus was leaving the station.
“I had to take a small vehicle to go to my office. It cost me much more,” he said.
Road transport workers in Barishal stopped running buses from Nathullabad Bus Stand on 25 routes, including the Dhaka-Barishal route.
Operation of trucks also remained suspended, and transport workers allegedly barred battery-run three-wheelers from running in and around the bus terminal.
Besides, transport workers in Chapainawabganj halted bus service to Naogaon and also on inter-upazila routes. However, they ran buses on Chapainawabganj-Dhaka route. BRTC buses operated as usual.
In Khulna, strike continued for the second consecutive day, and the workers declared that they would carry on the work stoppage until amendments to the law are made.
However, after a meeting with the deputy commissioner of the district, Khulna Motor Workers’ Union President Nurul Islam said they would operate buses today.
Also in Kushtia, no buses left the stations due to the ongoing transport strike.
Balaka Kundu, 54, wanted to catch a bus for Rajshahi to visit her ailing daughter but failed to get any.
“I am now looking for a vehicle to go to Rajshahi. I don’t have enough money to rent a private car,” she said.
Two Dhaka-bound buses of Deluxe Paribahan, crammed with passengers from Chuadanga, were stopped by transport workers in Jhenidah. The protesters forced the vehicles to turn back.
Transport workers also blocked the Dhaka-Mymensingh road in Gazipur’s Sreepur area for two hours, causing many students seeking admission to Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University to suffer in gridlock.
In Satkhira, bus services remained suspended amid the transport strike, which rolled into the second day in the district.
Transport workers in Mymensingh started a strike yesterday.
Asked about the strike called by the local transport unions, Osman Ali, general secretary of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, said, “We don’t have control everywhere. Even regional leaders of the federation can’t calm agitating workers.”
SITUATION IN CAPITAL
Fewer buses plied the city streets as transport workers abstained from work following drives by BRTA mobile courts.
Mahbubur Rahman, organising secretary of Dhaka Road Transport Owners Association, said it happened because of a rumour that mobile courts were fining vehicles Tk 25,000 each for plying city roads without valid documents.
A large number of vehicles without fitness certificates and also drivers without licences did not bring out their vehicles to avoid paying hefty fines, he told this newspaper.
But the situation started getting normal around noon, he claimed.
Meanwhile, seven BRTA mobile courts in the capital filed 79 cases against different vehicles yesterday. The courts also fined violators of traffic rules a total of Tk 1.19 lakh and seized papers of three vehicles.