Workers in Khulna resume work after 16 days of protests
Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC), which supervises 26 state-owned jute mills, has submitted a list of workers and their bank account details to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to expedite the payment of dues to workers who have been demonstrating for the past two weeks.
The workers, who also suspended their strike and returned to work on Wednesday, are likely to get their outstanding dues very soon, says a top government official.
“As asked by the Prime Minister's Office, we have submitted a list of workers under our jute mills and their bank account details on Wednesday. They will get the payments soon,” Mizanur Rahman, acting secretary at the Textiles and Jute Ministry told Dhaka Tribune on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, BJMC Secretary AKM Tareque told Dhaka Tribune that they have sought Tk337 crore from the government to clear the arrears and wages of the mill workers and employees until June this year.
“Although the final amount can change a little, that amount won’t be big. Once we receive the fund, we will be able to pay the dues of 32,740 workers and employees,” he added.
Dues of two weeks are likely to be paid next week, and the rest in the following week.
State Minister for Labour and Employment Monnujan Sufian also told Dhaka Tribune that all workers will get their dues, salary and festival bonus before the Eid-ul-Fitr vacation begins.
“The prime minister herself is aware of the situation. She is always in favour of the workers, so all of them will get the due payments and receive the pay scale gradually,” she said on Wednesday.
“Their dues will be paid through banks, so that no middleman can embezzle their money. The payment process is in the final stage right now,” she added.
The workers' wages have been due for the past 11 weeks, while salaries of other employees' are four months overdue.
Mills resume production
The workers of the state-owned jute mills in Khulna on Tuesday suspended their strike for a week, and returned to work on Wednesday morning — resuming production in the mills after 16 days.
They decided to resume production on three conditions after a meeting with the Khulna Deputy Commissioner Md Helal Hossain on Tuesday.
The conditions are: the wage commission for workers doing emergency work should be implemented by May 22; workers must be paid their dues of two weeks this week; and all wages in arrears must be cleared by the next week, confirmed Md Murad Hossain, convenor of Bangladesh Jute Mills Workers League’s Khulna-Jessore regional committee.
DC Helal said: “Tk60 crore owed to the workers will be sent directly to their bank accounts.”
Jute mill workers have been protesting since March 13 to press home their nine-point charter of demands — which include payment of outstanding salaries and allowances, implementation of the wage commission, allocation of sufficient funds for the sector, reappointment of sacked workers, and permanent appointments.
BJMC Secretary Tareque said they will seek an allocation of about Tk1,900 crore from the government to implement the 2015 wage scale for the workers in 25 factories, including 22 jute mills.
“We are obliged to pay the wage as per the new scale. If considered from July 2015, we will require an estimated amount of Tk1,892 crore to pay their arrears — which will happen in phases,” he said.
Plan to recover losses
Tareque also identified that buying jute at higher price is the core reason behind BJMC’s continuous losses.
“We need to buy raw jute by July-September every year at a fare price. If we can buy on time, it will cost Tk1,200 per maund. Since the BJMC lacks fund, we usually buy jute on credit later than that period of time every year, which costs us Tk1,000 more per maund in system loss,” he said.
However, he said, BJMC has taken up a number of plans including diversification of jute products to turn the sector back. “Jute leaf tea and Sonali Bag will be two of the products that will help us most.”
“Tk10-crore fund has been allocated from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to popularise the Sonali Bag, which we will use to buy machines. Once the machines are in hand, we will be able to produce 100,000 Sonali Bag each day,” he said.
The BJMC secretary also said that all mills will soon have new machineries to compete with the private sector.