Hundreds of jute mill workers yesterday took to the streets in Dhaka, Khulna and Chattogram, protesting the government decision to shut all state-run jute mills and lay off 25,000 workers.
Labour leaders said they would stage sit-ins in front of all state-run jute mills today and give the government a 24-hour ultimatum to revoke its decision.
"If the demand is not met, the workers will go on hunger strike in front of the gates of the jute mills all over the country," Sardar Abdul Hamid, convener of Bangladesh Jute Workers Protection CBA and Non-CBA Sangram Committee, told this newspaper.
Yesterday morning, jute mill workers along with their family members formed human chains in Khalishpur of Khulna city, demanding cancellation of the government decision.
Md Mizanur Rahman, a worker of Platinum Jubilee Jute Mills in Khulna, said, "The government decided to sack us at a time when we are already in deep trouble due to pandemic.
"We have been living in quarters for labourers at the jute mills for generations. Where will we go with our family members at this time of pandemic? Where will we get jobs when all the factories are firing workers?"
Talking to this correspondent, Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) Chairman Abdur Rauf said all the dues of the workers will be paid in due course.
"According to section-26 of the labour law, we are legally bound to pay all the wages. Once we get the funds, we shall transfer those directly to the workers' bank accounts as instructed by the government. There is no scope for any corruption or mismanagement."
He, however, could not say whether the payment would be made in one or multiple instalments.
Asked, Hamid said, "The government assured that once the gazette notification is published, the mill authorities will pay the workers all their dues and financial benefits.
"Unfortunately, we cannot rely on this statement."
"As per the gazette notification of the Productivity and Wage Commission, 2015, published in January this year, we were supposed to get enhanced wages and arrears by March this year.
"Six months have gone by, but our wages have not been increased. In fact, workers of several jute mills in the Khulna zone have not been paid for eight weeks," he pointed out.
Earlier on Sunday, Khulna City Corporation Mayor Talukder Abdul Khaleque assured the jute mill workers that they would be paid as per the labour law without any delay.
The mayor, along with Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Helal Hossain, spoke at a press conference organised by the district administration.
Helal said that according to the textiles and jute ministry's decision, the workers will be paid 40 percent of their arrears in fiscal 2020-21 and the rest over the next two fiscal years (30 percent per annum).
Each worker will get between Tk 12 lakh and Tk 54 lakh. Besides, those who retired since 2014 will be given lump sums, he mentioned.
PROTESTS BY LEFTIST PARTIES
Leaders of leftist political parties have protested the government decision to shut all state-run jute mills.
The Left Democratic Alliance, a combine of eight leftist parties, will submit a memorandum to the prime minister on July 2, demanding withdrawal of the decision.
Hasanul Huq Inu, president of a faction of Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal, said, "The jute industry is not just about making profits. It's our country's heritage.
"Apart from tens of thousands of workers, millions of jute farmers will be in big trouble. The private mill owners will now manipulate the market and farmers will not get a fair price for their produce. With this decision, the government has pushed millions of families into extreme poverty and joblessness."
Communist Party of Bangladesh President Mujahidul Islam Selim said, "The claim that privatisation will save the industry is absolutely baseless. It could be modernised through administrative reforms under the government's supervision."
In a statement, Workers' Party President Rashed Khan Menon said, "The BJMC's inefficient administration and corrupt officials are responsible for the financial losses, not the poor workers.
Instead of holding the BJMC officials accountable, the government is sacking workers which is extremely unfair."