Goods transport owner and workers went on a strike demanding 9-points including amendment to the recently enacted Road Transport Act
With assurance from Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal that their demands regarding the Road Transport Act would be looked into, cargo transport leaders and workers have called off their nationwide strike that began on Wednesday.
The minister himself made the announcement around 1am on Thursday, while briefing reporters after a four-hour-long meeting with representatives of Bangladesh Truck-Covered-van Goods Transport Owner-Worker Unity Council, Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association and Bangladesh Bus-Truck Owners Association.
Kamal also said that there would also be no more bus strike, which had crippled the country’s southern districts over the past three days.
Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association and Bangladesh Bus-Truck Owners Association had not officially called that strike, and are yet to confirm whether they would follow the cargo transport leaders’ cue.
The minister said that the government would look into the nine demands, including amendment to the recently enforced Road Transport Act, the cargo transport leaders and workers had made.
He added that transport owners and workers would get until June 30 next year to get their registration, fitness certificates and driving licences, along with other necessary documents, in order.
The Unity Council’s Member Secretary Tajul Islam said: “We have withdrawn the strike. But we have some conditions. The home minister has said that he will discuss them at the top forum of the government.”
The meeting had begun at the minister’s Dhanmondi residence at 9:20pm. Senior officials of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) were also present at the meeting.
However, commuters immensely suffered across the country on Wednesday as transport network remained closed after the owners and workers of bus, truck and other freight transports joined forces in rejecting the Road Transport Act with provisions of stricter punishments.
Cargo transport workers had started their nationwide indefinite strike on Wednesday morning, two days after the bus-truck owners and workers in the southern districts kicked off their one.
On Wednesday, the protesters vandalized vehicles, attacked workers willing to operate and blockaded roads in many districts, obstructing transportation of goods imported or meant for export and making the businesses take a hit.
They also barred vehicles transporting essential commodities, at a time when rumours and shortages have driven up the prices of different items.
Maximum intercity or inter-district buses from Dhaka’s terminals did not operate. Movement of city buses was also less than normal.
Road communications between Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet and Narayanganj, along with a number of districts, were interrupted after protesters blockaded the roads, forcing thousands of people to walk or find other modes of transportation, since the morning.
However, traffic on these roads and highways returned to normal in the afternoon, after police intervened peacefully.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Auto-Rickshaw Auto-Tempo Transport Workers’ Federation on Wednesday also demanded amendment of the Road Transport Act.
They claimed the law was enacted without taking cognizance of the opinions of transport workers and did not protect their interests.
Bangladesh Bus-Truck Owners Association and Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association had requested the government to delay the full implementation of the new law by a couple of months.
Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) Chairman Kamrul Ahsan said: “We have directed the mobile court magistrates to be a little lenient while carrying out duties and fine the nominal amounts in line with the law.”
On Wednesday, mobile courts filed only 38 cases and fined Tk35,600, the lowest in the past three days.
Traffic and highway police are yet to start filing cases under the new law, which came into effect on Sunday.
Police have made a chart of fines for violating traffic rules, but it will not be implemented immediately as part of the authorities’ decision to be lenient at the moment.
“For now, we will execute the new act manually, by writing the violators up,” said Joydeb Chawdhry, deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s Traffic Division.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, headed by former shipping minister Shajahan Khan, will also give their observation over the act’s implementation after a two-day meeting set to begin on Thursday.
The goods transport owners and workers had begun their strike across the country from 6am on Wednesday.
Apart from them, bus-truck owners and workers continued their strike, which began Monday, in Chapainawabganj, Comilla, Tangail, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Jessore, Jhalakathi, Jhenaidah, Joypurhat, Khulna, Madaripur, Chuadanga, Meherpur, Narail, Satkhira, Kurigram, Bogra, Nilphamari and Munshiganj for the third consecutive day.
No movement of inter and intra-district buses had left thousands of passengers in distress across the country.
Passengers were seen hopelessly waiting at bus terminals for hours. They had to take three-wheelers or other small vehicles to reach their destinations by paying higher fares.
Many expressed frustration, saying the general people were suffering the most because of this dispute between the government and the transport owners and workers.
Students who attended the Primary Education Completion examinations in different districts were among those who had to find alternative modes of transport.
In Tangail, no buses left their terminals since the morning, halting bus communication between the district and the rest of the country. Road communication on Bangabandhu Bridge was also suspended.
Transport workers in Khulna, where the bus strike had first started on Monday, continued their strike on Wednesday, defying the authorities’ request to call it off.
Local raw goods traders around the country faced severe trouble too after workers of all types of cargo transport joined the truckers in abstaining from operating.
In Chapainawabganj, loading of goods was stopped at Sonamasjid Land Port. But trucks from India were allowed to unload. Traders said they feared no loss because of the strike, as there were no perishable goods.
At Hili Land Port in Dinajpur, operations were going on inside, but the trucks could not leave as the protesters had blockaded the Hili-Dinajpur road.
In Jhalakathi, transport owners said the workers had stopped operating buses on nine routes without any notice.
At Bhomra Land Port in Satkhira, importers suffered as there were no cargo transports. They had to move the goods in small vehicles to nearby districts at higher prices.
Our district correspondents contributed to this report