More than 25,000 temporary and substitute workers across the country of 25 state-owned jute mills that were closed in July 2020 have not yet received their arrears in 10 months.
When the 25 jute mills, including nine in Chattogram, were declared closed on 2 July last year due to continuous losses, about 50,000 permanent and temporary workers were laid off under the Golden Handshake scheme by the Ministry of Textiles and Jute.
At the time, referring to labour laws, the ministry said that laid-off workers would get wages for 60 days along with gratuity, provident fund and other facilities under the Golden Handshake as per service rules.
It was also announced that the total dues of 8,956 permanent and substitute workers, who have retired since 2013, would be paid.
Meanwhile, the workers have launched an agitation demanding payment of all dues and the reopening of the closed jute mills. The government and Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) have not been paying heed to the demands made at meetings, seminars and human chains.
Md Sumon Mia, 35, one of the 50,000 workers who lost their jobs, said he had worked for nine years as a temporary worker at Amin Jute Mill in Chattogram. For the period from 2015 to July 2020, BJMC owes him about Tk1,69,000. He and his family have been leading life in dehumanised conditions for almost a year.
"I have been running my family by borrowing money from people for the last eleven months in the hope that I would be getting the arrears of my wages. Now no one lends me money. If this continues, there is no other way for me and my family but to commit suicide," he said.
In this regard, BJMC Chairman Abdur Rauf told The Business Standard, "The basic wages of temporary workers have been paid but they are entitled to the increased wages from 2015 to January 2020 under the wage board that has been announced. We have not yet been able to pay about 7% of the permanent workers. Due to this, there is a delay in paying the temporary workers."
"We have already sent a letter to the ministry to allocate funds for them. The workers will get their dues only if the money is released. Besides, BJMC is working to resolve the issue related to 2,600 workers across the country whose dues are stuck due to complications arising from a mismatch in names," he added.
Ruhul Amin, coordinator of the Workers-Farmers-Students-People Unity Council for the protection of jute mills, said, "When the jute mills were declared closed, the government stated that the dues of the workers would be paid by 1 September that year, but the BJMC and the government are not addressing the issue regarding the temporary workers even though the permanent workers have received some dues. The workers involved in the movement are being harassed in various ways."
"Before the closure of the factories, there were 35,000 temporary workers in jute mills all over the country and as per BJMC's estimates, they are owed Tk323 crore. Eleven months have elapsed since the closure of the mills, but no money has been paid to the temporary workers. These unemployed workers are currently living inhumane lives, he added.
AHM Kamrul Hasan, General Manager of Amin Jute Mill in Chattogram, said, "We are not able to pay the money as the finance ministry and the BJMC have not disbursed the money. There are other issues which we are trying to solve gradually."
Workers have said that the wage commission announced in 2015 was implemented in January 2020. These six-year incremental wages are owed to workers. Besides, they are owed three weeks' wages in 2019, 60 days' wages (notice period) as per labour laws, Eid-ul-Azha bonus in 2020, daily wages of eight weeks in the first phase of the lockdown and wages on 1 and 2 July 2020.
Jute mill worker Jamal Hossain, who worked at Amin Jute Mills for 20 years, said, "At this last stage of life, I am not getting the money I earned with my sweat and hard labour. My child has to pull a rickshaw due to the lack of money and I break bricks for survival."
"We always worry if we can survive the next day. You can guess how we have spent the month of Ramadan and how our Eid will be," he added.
Kamal Uddin, member secretary of the Workers-Farmers-Students-People Unity Council-Chattogram, said, "Our workers know nothing but jute mill work. The unemployed workers have not been able to adapt to any other profession for a long time. In the meantime, several workers have been killed in accidents."
CBA leader Arifur Rahman said, "The condition of temporary workers is the most miserable among jute mill workers. As they are owed less than permanent workers, they should have been paid first. But even though the dues of the permanent workers have been paid, nothing has been said about the dues of the temporary even though a long time has gone by."