The 72-hour strike by state-owned jute mill workers, seeking a 9-point demand including payment of arrears, ended on Thursday. However, whether the crisis actually ends or not depends on the government. Unlike it was in March, this time the workers’ strike was not peaceful. Four policemen were injured in clashes on the last day of strike in Khulna. Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) said it is unable to regularly pay workers due to the losses it faced. The workers alleged that the state owned jute mills incur losses due to corruption by the management. Public transport came to a halt in different parts of the country including Khulna and Chattogram as the workers enforced the strike alongside a blockade of highways and railways. The loss incurred cannot be assessed only in terms of money.
There are 26 jute mills under Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) which is under the ministry of textiles and jute. Of the 25 running mills, 22 are jute mills and three non-jute mills. A total of 27,721 workers and 3,730 officials and employees have been working in these jute mills till June last year. There are also 23,278 temporary workers, and 6,548 workers who work on daily basis. The authorities have not learnt any lesson although the jute mills incurred losses of Tk 3.95 billion in eight months of the current year while Tk 4.66 billion in 2017-18. Following the workers’ strike, the BJMC asked the senior officials of all jute mills to fix wages of the workers as per the National Wage Structure of 2015. The workers currently receive wages as per the previous wage structure.
The workers cannot be blamed for the losses of the mills. BJMC has to shoulder the responsibility. They have to answer why the state-owned jute mills incur huge losses every year while the private sector jute mills make a profit. According to the allegations of the workers, BJMC does not purchase jute at the beginning of the jute season when the price of jute is low, but it purchases later when the price of jute goes up.
BJMC’s excuse is that it does not get allocation in time. Is it not their responsibility to collect the allocation timely? A huge amount of goods is lying idle in each jute mill under the public sector. It is not the responsibility of the workers to sell jute goods. People have the right to know what steps have been taken against those who failed to discharge their duties.
The prime minister said there is no reason for the jute mills to incur such losses. Investigation needs to be carried out as to why the state-owned jute mills incur these losses. Who are behind this? There must be transparency and accountability at every step from jute purchasing to exporting jute goods. The workers are deprived of due wages under the new wage structure due to losses, but BJMC officials and employees got their salaries under the new pay structure. This is contradictory and unacceptable.
After the independence, BJMC officials were very busy to make money of their own, but they were not serious about making the jute mills profitable. If BJMC fails to run the jute mills profitably, there is no alternative but to hand over the jute mills to the private sector. It is meaningless to run the state-owned jute mills merely to meet the huge expenditure of BJMC.