Exporters are in the soup with products they manufactured centering on Christmas as transport workers continue a strike at KDS Logistics Ltd — one of the 19 off-docks in the port city of Chattogram.
The strike rolled on for six straight days on Tuesday as 2,536 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent unit) export boxes worth around Tk650 crore piled up at the off-dock.
The agitated transport workers said they were in talks with the private ICD, but apparently there was no solution in sight as the off-dock shifts the blame on to labour leaders who have been staging the movement over a host of demands, including appointment letters and gratuity.
Exporters send their products to the off-docks where the items are loaded into containers, carried to Chattogram port and loaded to container carriers for foreign markets.
Export boxes that are stuck at KDS Logistics now mostly contain apparel items and are meant for the European and the US markets, said Khairul Alam Sujon, director at the Bangladesh Freight Forwarders Association.
According to the association, 11 ships that were to carry the containers have already left Chattogram port on 1-4 October as the cargo did not reach the port from the off-dock.
Muntasir Rubayat, assistant vice-president at the shipping agent GBX Logistics, said two of the company's ships with the containers were supposed to arrive at Singapore port on 9 October. But the ships – SOL Hind and SOL Bangladesh – left Chattogram as the cargo could not be loaded onto the carrier vessels.
"Businessmen are poised to incur a huge loss thanks to the non-stop strike," Rakibul Alam, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told The Business Standard.
He said that responsibility for the trade loss squarely falls on the KDS Logistics and labour leaders, and the situation will slip out of control if the issue is not disposed of within the next one or two days.
KDS flouts law, shifts blame on to workers
Some 200 lorry drivers and 200 assistants of KDS Logistics Ltd began the strike on 30 September to press home their demands, including issuance of appointment letters, gratuity and fixing of working hours.
Mainuddin, president of the Prime Mover Trailer Workers' Union, said the 400 transport workers have been working at the off-dock for 15 years. But they neither have any ID cards provided by the employer nor have they got any gratuity – which is a blatant violation of labour laws.
Mainuddin said the workers had talked to the authorities about their rights multiple times, but to no avail. "There are yet talks going on, but a solution is yet to come up," he noted.
According to Labour Law-2006, an employer without providing any appointment paper will not be able to recruit any worker. Besides, the workers will have to be provided with identity cards.
Selim Rahman, managing director of KDS Group, said, "We are not supposed to issue identity cards for the protesting workers since they do not belong to KDS Logistics."
He claimed the company had recruited the workers via a contractor.
Selim Rahman said, "Many of the workers who were protesting have agreed to work under the banner of the contractor. We are taking steps to solve the problems and hope it will all be settled by tomorrow [Wednesday]."
Abdullah Al Shakib Mubarrat, Deputy Inspector General of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, told The Business Standard, "KDS's arguments about rejecting the provision of workers' IDs and other benefits are not correct."
Referring to the labour law, he said the main organisation will be liable to meet demands even if workers are hired by a third party.
"KDS Logistics will have to ensure the workers' demands are met by it," he noted.
Movement to intensify further: Labour leader
Labour leader Mainuddin said the striking workers will intensify their movement until their demands are met.
"We will hold a sit-in before KDS Logistics Wednesday. On 7 October, Prime Mover drivers across Chattogram will go on strike. If there is no solution even after this, there will be a nationwide strike on 8 October," he added.
Ruhul Amin Sikder, secretary general of the Bangladesh Inland Container Depots Association (Bicda), said any failure in sending goods to foreign markets on time will have a negative impact on Bangladesh's overall export opportunities.