Pay hike agitation batters Biman
The headquarters of the country's largest airliner Biman Bangladesh was rocked by day-long demonstrations yesterday, as its workers and employees protested a new pay scale that scraps pension schemes, and gives pay raises lower than expected.
Around 3,000 permanent workers and employees stand to lose their pensions under the new pay scale.
The pay structure was supposed to go into effect today, but in the face of the protest, the management of the state-owned airliner postponed its effectiveness till tomorrow, when the board of directors is scheduled to have an emergency meeting to discuss the issue.
The chaos broke loose around 11:00am after the employees and workers came to know about the details of the pay scale.
The demonstrators at one point assaulted Biman's Company Secretary Abdur Rashid, and damaged the office of the managing director's secretary.
They also laid siege to the office of Biman Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Muhammad Zakiul Islam, confining him until the office hours ended.
Official activities at the Biman headquarters, Balaka, near Shahjalal International Airport in the capital were almost in suspension all through the day.
The demonstrators cleared the premises after 5:00pm, agreeing to wait until tomorrow's board meeting following day-long negotiations between the employees' and workers' unions, and the management.
Leaders of the demonstrators however threatened to stop activities of the airline unless their demands are met. They demanded continuation of pension schemes, and pay hikes equivalent to what government employees got through a new pay scale announced in November last year.
"It came to me as a shock that our pension scheme is going to vanish," said a senior official of Biman, preferring not to be named. "We have made our future plans based on the pensions," the official added.
On August 28, the Biman board gave its nod to the new pay scale. The workers and employees had been demanding pay hikes since the announcement of the new pay scale for public servants.
The demonstrators said the new pay scale, that was scheduled to be announced yesterday, already came too late, and on top of that it does not meet their expectations.
They claimed their salaries have been increased 25 to 30 percent on an average, which is lower than the increase the public servants got.
"We expected our salaries to be increased by 65 percent," said a female employee, who works for the ticket reservation department.
The new Salary Structure 2010 of Biman however offers gratuity equal to 2 months' basic pay for each service year.
But the woman, who reserves tickets for passengers, is not ready to accept the offer, and said, "Earlier we got increments annually. But under the new pay scale we will get increments every three years."
Another demonstrator said, "Until today, we never thought that we would lose our pensions."
"The authorities have no right to snatch away my right to pension," said Mushiqur Rahman, president of Biman Workers League.
"Employees of state-owned Sonali and Janata banks still enjoy pension benefits despite the fact that those banks were turned into public limited companies. Is Biman different from them?" he questioned.
Zakiul Islam however said, "Generally we know that pension schemes don't exist in public limited companies."
Biman was turned into a public limited company in July 2007. Zakiul admitted, the employees were not told earlier that their pension schemes would be scrapped following the transformation of Biman Corporation.
He however said it was not clear to him why the employees and workers started demonstrating, and added, "We have taken notes of their demands, and will place those before the board meeting. I am the MD, and I am answerable to the board. Whatever the board decides, that will be implemented. I hope the board will take a right decision to protect the interest of all."
Meanwhile, ABM Akhtaruzzaman, president of the Society of Aircraft Engineers of Biman, at a gathering of the demonstrators, said, "The activities of Biman will be stopped and our movement will continue unless our demands are met."