On July 28, Tuesday, hundreds of jute mill workers gathered in Cumilla city of Chattogram in Bangladesh, demanding the release of their pending wages. Associated with the Asha jute mill located in Debidwar, the workers burnt tires and raised slogans against the administration at the Dhaka-Chattogram highway.
According to local reports, the mill authorities had assured the workers that their arrears and other allowances would be paid up before Eid [July 30]. Workers have been complaining that non-payment of wages and lack of alternative employment and government support forces them into a debt-trap, with the pandemic crisis only compounding their long-list of miseries.
Bangladesh’s jute industry generates around USD 1 billion in annual revenue. However, financial experts and reports confirm that state-run factories continue to run into debt with rising losses, mismanagement and lack of infrastructure. With the closure of several state-owned mills, it was reported that nearly 25,000 workers currently face layoffs in the country.
Earlier, on July 7, two union leaders, Oliar Rehman and Nur Islam, were arrested and interrogated after they organized protests in Khulna district against the closure of loss-making jute mills. Last May, nearly 80,000 workers from 27 jute mills falling under the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation took to striking against the administration on the demand of clearance of arrears owed to them.
Several human rights activists, collective bargaining agents as well as the Jute Mills Workers League, have reiterated that non-payment of wages has pushed workers to the brink of extreme poverty and starvation.
Those participating in Tuesday’s protest complained that whenever jute workers gather for their rights and demand wages, the authorities respond by suggesting that workers should instead resume their work and offer no serious and long-term commitment. “We are only given assurances on the temporary measures, workers wage crisis remains the same which keeps on recurring every now and then,” said one of the workers.