The country is going to incur a big economic loss and see a massive disruption of supplies as the goods transport owners and workers have announced that they will go for an indefinite strike across the country from Wednesday.
The announcement came at a press conference of the Bangladesh Truck Covered-Van Owners Workers Oikya Parishad in the capital's Tejgaon area on Tuesday.
The platform for cargo transport owners and workers said the strike is to press home its nine-point charter of demands for amending the Road Transport Act 2018.
Rustam Ali Khan, convener of the Oikya Parishad, told The Business Standard that they had earlier sat with the road transport and bridges minister and the secretary to the ministry and placed their demands.
But neither of their demands was addressed in the law, he said.
Rustam Ali, also general secretary of the Bangladesh Truck Covered-Van Owners Association, said their strike will continue until the government assures them of amending the law.
The announcement of the strike came at a time when there has been an uproar in the country caused by high prices of onions for more than a month. Onion prices started rising after India had banned its export late September. The key cooking item's price even rose to more than Tk250 per kg.
Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan, secretary general of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh, said if the strike continues, the consumers will be the worst victims of it.
"Now the prices of onions have started falling; if workers keep on observing the strike, the wholesalers will once again get a chance to increase the prices," said Humayun.
The prices of many essential commodities like salt, soybean oil, ginger, and garlic are already high in the market now, he pointed out.
He observed that the government is trying to discipline the country's transport sector whereas transport owners and workers are trying to prevent the implementation of the new law.
The price of rice is also increasing in the county, ultimately leading to inflation, he said.
"The government will have to control the strike with an iron hand. Otherwise, the whole sector will go out of control. The workers and owners will have to abide by the rule of law," Humayun said.
Not only the domestic market, the export-import activities will also suffer due to the transport strike, said businesspeople.
Rubana Huq, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said if the strike continues, they will have to face enormous losses.
She said everyday six to seven thousand trucks transport export-oriented goods.
If the strike continues, they will have to ship goods by air, which will increase the expenses manifold.
Rubana Huq said normally the readymade garment industry exports goods worth $36 billion per year.
Garment goods worth $100 million are exported on an average every day, she said.
If 10 percent of the goods are shipped by air, they will have to incur heavy losses, said Rubana.
However, according to the Export Promotion Bureau of Bangladesh, the apparel export was $34.13 billion in the last fiscal year.
"We hope that the government will immediately sit with the transport leaders and will reach a solution. Otherwise, our exports will be shut down," said Rubana Huq.
Mahbubul Alam, president of Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industries, also said the strike will leave a negative effect on the economy.
He told The Business Standard that about 90 percent of the country's export-import is done through the Chittagong Port.
Trucks and covered-vans carry goods to and from the Chittagong Port, he said.
If the strike continues, it will contribute to a container jam at the port and halt the export-import activities, he observed.
This will leave a detrimental effect on the economy and help increase the prices of daily commodities, Mahbubul warned.
What do the owners and workers want?
The Bangladesh Truck Covered-Van Owners Workers Oikya Parishad raised objections to at least 10 sections – 69, 82, 84, 85, 86, 90, 98, 99, 100, 105 – of the Road Transport Act 2018. The sections are related to fake driving licences, reckless driving and negligence.
The workers are demanding that the sections be amended.
The owners said the workers are worried about the non-bailable section of the law that falls under Section 105.
Shajahan Khan, executive chairman of the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, told The Business Standard on Tuesday that the federation does not support this kind of strike.
But he said the law will have to be amended.
"I think the government has to be flexible and pay heed to their [workers] logical demands and amend the law," said Shajahan Khan, adding that there are some inconsistencies in the law.
"What the workers and owners across the country are doing is not right. We do not support this strike. We have urged all to operate their vehicles," said Shajahan Khan, who is considered to be the most influential leader in the transport sector.
He said the federation will hold a meeting on November 21 and 22, and discuss the law in detail.
The federation will clarify its stance on the law then, he said.
There are more than 3.54 lakh cargo vehicles across the country and around one crore workers are involved in transporting goods, according to the Bangladesh Truck Covered-Van Owners Workers Oikya Parishad.