In Khulna Crescent Jute Mill, workers struggle to survive as they are owed seven weeks' worth of wages
"Jute Day is a national day. We [workers] are not saying it is an unacceptable occasion. But when there is no money and your child lies starving, then a father does not remember Jute Day anymore."
In this manner, Khulna Crescent Jute Mill CBA's General Secretary Shohrab Hossain voiced his desperation on National Jute Day 2019, with the labourers in his mill being owed seven weeks' worth of wages. The ministry has yet to provide any information regarding the payment.
"This Jute Day is not for us," he said. "It bears no importance to us. Despite the prime minister declaring the jute industry as an agricultural industry, the ministry has yet to recognize it. Three years have passed without the finance ministry implementing the decision."
Shohrab demanded the prime minister allocate money for the jute industry in the national budget.
Ironically, jute workers are the one of the most neglected on National Jute Day. Without wages, the families of the workers are spending their days starving. Production at nine jute mills in Khulna and Jessore is almost at a standstill due to the absence of jute.
The labourers have two main demands: That the government allocate budget for the jute industry in the national budget, and that it bring the industry under the agricultural industry.
Crescent Jute Mill labourer Habibur Rahman said: "I have not received my wages for the last seven weeks. I am barely surviving on one meal per day. My daughter is sick but I do not have the means to pay for her treatment. I have come to the bank to cash out Tk200, with which I will try to treat her."
On March 4, jute mill workers participated in several protest activities, voicing their seven-point demands including the payment of outstanding wages and the purchase of jute.
The President of Crescent Jute Mill CBA Md Murad said: "The mills cannot buy jute at the right time, as the budget is not allocated to the jute industry at the right time of the year. Then they are forced to buy jute at an increased price of Tk500-600 at the end of the season.”
"The main raw material of jute industries is jute," he continued. "If one cannot profit while buying the raw material, one cannot profit while selling it."
Murad said inexperienced chairmen and managers appointed at the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BGMC) are not being able to take the jute industry forward.
Planning Chief of Crescent Jute Mill Shahadat Hossain said: "In the last two years, there was no government budget allocation for jute purchase. The jute mills fell into financial crisis, as the mills were unable to sell their products. This is why the workers could not be paid on time."
He hoped if the government put more emphasis on commercializing jute products rather than producing polythene, the jute industry would return to its golden days of prosperity.
Meanwhile, Khulna zone Head of BJMC Sheikh Rahmat Ullah said: "We brought out a rally in front of the deputy commissioner's house in the morning, and have arranged fireworks on the occasion of National Jute Day.”
"We have to install modern machineries in the jute mills, and try to modernize products under the Jute Diversification Promotion Centre," he said. "We have to ensure workers get paid. At the same time, we must create a demand for jute in the international market."