Politicians, economists and labour leaders, at a seminar organised at the Dhaka Reporters Unity on Saturday, called upon the government to reopen the closed state-owned jute and sugar mills and to pay the workers their outstanding wages. The government closed down 6 of the 15 state-owned sugar mills towards the end of 2020, ostensibly because these were incurring losses.
On the same grounds, it was decided to shut down the state-owned jute mills and hand these over to the private sector. This handover process of several mills has already begun. The workers of these shut-down jute and sugar mills, however, have not received their outstanding dues as yet.
Year after year the government's ministers and bureaucrats sing praise of jute when Jute Day comes around, they speak about reviving the glory of the golden fibre, but take no initiative to increase the use of jute products
While the government jute mills have been shut down on the excuse of losses, the number of jute mills in the private sector is increasing by the year. That indicates that there is a demand for jute goods within the country and around the world. If we use jute instead of plastic and polythene products, this will protect both the environment and the jute mills. The jute farmers will benefit too. Other than sacks, bags and rope, jute can be used to manufacture fabric and many other items. The use of jute has increased in India, China and many other countries. It is the government that needs to take a leading role in expanding the jute industry.
The workers are not the ones responsible for the losses incurred by the jute, textile, sugar and other state-owned mills since the country's independence. It is the government's weakness in management, corruption, waste and wrong decisions that are responsible. Even in the report of Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC), the reasons behind the losses faced by the jute mills have been cited as mismanagement, delayed release of funds for jute purchase, old machinery, top-heavy administration, low quality jute, corruption in purchase and sales, and shortage of raw jute.
It is most surprising that no action is taken against those responsible for the mismanagement and corruption in running the mills. The workers are blamed for everything, they are laid off. Most of those at the top posts in BJMC, BTMC, the sugar mills corporation, appointed to run the state-owned mills, do not have an iota of knowledge or experience in running industries.
Then there is the inevitable corruption and pilferage. The behaviour of our political leadership is very strange. Year after year the government's ministers and bureaucrats sing praise of jute when Jute Day comes around, they speak about reviving the glory of the golden fibre, but take no initiative to increase the use of jute products. The excessive use of plastic and polythene in place of jute not only pollutes the environment, it is harming public life.
When the state-owned factories were released to the private sector during the BNP and the caretaker government time, Awami League had protested. But when they came to power, they simply followed their predecessors. This is unfortunate. According to concerned quarters, it would be possible to make the state-owned jute and sugar mills profitable simply by spending a few thousand crore taka on advanced machinery.
A white paper should be published on why the jute mills, sugar mills and other state-owned mills have been facing losses in thousands of crore taka ever since the independence of the country. Legal steps must be taken against those who have misappropriated public wealth. But before all else, the workers' outstanding dues must be settled. It is hard for workers to eke out a living even while earning wages, given the exorbitant cost of living. So for the workers who have failed to receive their due wages, it will be near impossible to feed themselves and their families.