Jack Of All Trades
Are jute mill workers victims of disparity?
It is a shame for the country and the government to keep some 600,000 workers of some 22 state-owned just mills out of the eighth national pay scale approved some nearly four years ago. Moreover the workers have not been paid wages for the past six to 12 weeks, forcing them to starve virtually. What is more painful to know that all officials and staff under the Jute Ministry including the Bangladeshi Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC), have been drawing their salaries under the eighth national pay scale approved by the Cabinet on September 7, 2015, with effect from July that year.
Practicing such disparity between the officials and the workers in government establishments is unthinkable in a democratic country which boasts of achieving independence through a liberation war fought shoulder to shoulder by the all tiers of the society. This disparity has maligned the overall socio political and economic achievements of the incumbent government, which has been ruling the country at stretch from January, 2009.
However, the workers have shown a great patience without resorting to rampage during their sporadic ongoing agitation and blockade of streets and highways, although the agitation has been creating problems for the commuters time to time in the current Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
The jute ministry informed the media recently that it could not implement the new wage scale for the jute mill workers due to lack of funds. How callous is the ministry to claim so and talks about lack of funds. If there were no funds why the Cabinet had approved the national pay scale. Was it a joke of the government with the jute workers. Without fund how come the jute ministry and jute BJMC officials started enjoying the new pay scale regularly from the day of approval.
No one is going to believe that the wages could not be paid to the workers due to fund crunch. It is believed that the jute mill workers were intentionally left out of the eighth national pay scale by vested quarter within the administration to fish in the troubled water. When the world's ongoing green revolution has brought a new horizon of business for natural fibre, attempts for choking jute sector is a seer conspiracy of the vested quarter which is thriving within the government to harm it in an appropriate time.
In the latest meeting between the leaders of the jute mills workers and the senior officials of BJMC which monitors and runs the state owned jute mills assured that arrear wages would be paid by April 25. The assurance was not implemented forcing the workers to take to the streets again.
Despite their sufferings the commuters and the general public apparently extended support to the jute mills workers who have deprived of adequate and regular wages. The people who are aware of unabated corruptions in the different departments of the government, also know that billions and billions of take are being embezzled by a section of political party-backed traders and officials from state - run and also private banks in the name of loans and other fictitious business projects. The people cannot find any logic for not paying the approved national pay scale and regular salaries to the jute mills workers.
To realise the benefits of approved wage scale and arrear salaries the jute mill workers have gone for an indefinite general strike in all state - jute mills from Monday last. With the work stoppage jute mills are bracing for a daily production loss of take 80 million. Railway and road transportations are also likely to be disrupted in Dhaka, Khulna and Chittagong regions where most of the jute mills are located as the protesters declared a daily three-hour blockade from 4 pm to 7 pm every day. If the agitation is prolonged it will bring sufferings for the people ahead of the upcoming Eid-ul-Fitr which is due in the first week of the next month.
Jute mills workers on Sunday urged the National Human Rights Commission and the High Court to order the government to pay their dues as soon as possible on humanitarian grounds. The national pay scale took effect for almost all of the 2.3 million government officials and staff, including the bureaucrats. But the workers of the state owned jute mills were left apart, forcing them to start agitation. After three years of agitation, the labour and employment ministry issued an order to implement the eighth national pay scale for the jute mill workers in October last year. The labour and employment ministry also directed the jute ministry to issue a circular in this connection but the latter is yet to do so for reasons unknown.
In the last month the BJMC directed all the state owned jute mills to arrange wage structure in line with the eighth national pay scale. Under the new pay scale the minimum pay for a jute mill worker will double from taka 4,150 to taka 8,300 effective from July 1, 2015. The jute mills corporation says the national pay scale could not be implemented as the jute sector has losing business against the use of synthetic fibre and in 2018 the sector incurred a loss of take 4.66 billion. However, trade union leaders allege corruption and mismanagement as the causes of loss in the sector.
The workers said removal of corrupt officials from the jute ministry, jute Mill Corporation and the relevant mills will greatly help reining in the perennial loss of the state owned jute mills. Undertaking balancing, modernisation, rehabilitation and expansion scheme will increase efficiency and output of jute mills, allocation of funds to mils for purchasing jute on time will largely help to make mills to make profit.
A continued negligence of such a vast number jute mill workers might help grow political agitation in the country which is apparently enjoying a sort of political stability since the middle of 2015. Such negligence may also open scopes for vested quarters to trigger mayhem and militancy unless the authorities take prompt steps to solve the issue.
The author is Business Editor,
The Daily Observer