Thousands of agitating jute mill workers blocked roads and railways in Khulna and Jashore and roads in Chattogram yesterday, the first day of their indefinite strike at state-owned jute mills for better wages and arrears.
In Khulna and Jashore, workers of nine state-owned mills blocked Dhaka-Khulna highway, railway lines and other roads in the afternoon.
Yesterday was the ninth consecutive day of protests by workers of mills under the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC).
In several places on Dhaka-Khulna highway, workers of Alim and Eastern jute mills kept the road blocked for hours.
“I have been suffering from deprivation and poverty for over three months now. I am tired of hearing BJMC’s false promises. I don’t trust a word they say,” said Putul Khatun, 58, a worker of Crescent Jute Mills and a key organiser of the demonstrations in Khulna.
In Jashore, workers mostly from Jashore Jute Industry and Carpeting Jute Mills Ltd gathered in Rajghat area and blocked roads.
Around 4:00pm, workers of Daulatpur, Khalishpur, Crescent, Platinum and Star jute mills gathered in Notun Rasta, Kabir Bot Tola and Daulatpur areas in Khulna and demonstrated from 4:00pm-7:00pm. They also staged a sit-in on Dhaka-Khulna highway and the railway lines. No train or bus could enter or leave the city during the time.
However, workers of two jute mills in the capital’s Demra did not take to the streets as many of them joined work after receiving a week’s salary arrears. Ruling party men also allegedly kept them off the streets.
Hundreds of people were subjected to long tailbacks and had to walk miles under scorching heat.
Sohorab Hossain, general secretary of Crescent Jute Mills CBA, told The Daily Star that the workers had been subjected to irregular payment for years.
“The protests will get tougher if we don’t get any credible assurance by May 18,” he said.
In Chattogram, workers of nine state-owned mills demonstrated on the streets yesterday afternoon.
Workers of Amin Jute Mills kept Muradpur-Hathazari road blocked from 4:00pm-7:00pm.
“I don’t know how my wife and three children are surviving at home without any money. It feels we are the most neglected workers in the country,” said Momesh Khan, a protesting worker of the mill.
Kamal Uddin, office secretary of the CBA, said, “No promise is enough now. Please pay us what’s due. Nothing else will do.”
Meanwhile, workers of Hafij Jute Mills marched along Dhaka-Chattogram highway in Sitakunda in the afternoon and partially blocked traffic from 2:30pm-4:00pm.
On September 7, 2015, the cabinet approved the eighth national pay scale to be effective from July that year. The scale has been implemented in almost all government offices and corporations.
But some 60,000 workers of the 22 state-run jute mills are still waiting for the scale to be implemented while all officials and employees under the jute ministry, including the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation, are drawing their salaries under the new scale.
On top of this, the agitating workers have not been paid for six to 12 weeks, with many literally starving as The Daily Star has seen during visits to Khulna and Demra in the capital. Officials and employees of the mills have also not been getting their salaries for two to four months.