Hailing from Barishal, Shahidul Islam spent 37 years on the production lines of Amin Jute Mills in Chattogram. He went to the office as usual on Thursday and returned home after completing his shift. His colleagues, in the afternoon, informed him about the government's announcement that state-owned jute mills would be shut down, sending a total of 25,000 workers into early retirement across the country.
The elderly man could not believe the news and rushed to the mill gate where he found hundreds of workers crowding the place. Shahidul burst into tears. He went to the factory on Friday and Saturday and he was stopped at the gate. He cried as he looked at the closed factory, a place where he had spent the golden days of his life.
Like him, 15,000 workers of nine state-owned jute mills in Chattogram are having sleepless nights as an uncertain future awaits them and their families.
Though the government said the workers will be seen off with full payments before the factories are closed, the workers are worried about managing their livelihoods in the upcoming days amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Textiles and Jute Minister Golam Dastagir Gazi, at an online press conference, recently said that the government was going to shut down the country's 25 public jute mills due to huge amounts of recurring losses year after year.
Subsequently, last Thursday, Principal Secretary to the prime minister Ahmad Kaikaus said the prime minister gave the go-ahead to shut down production at all state-owned jute mills after full payments were made to the workers.
Jute workers' leader Kabir Hosen said the workers suddenly found themselves in deep trouble with the decision. It would be difficult for them to get new work due to the pandemic-led job crisis.
"Even ensuring schooling for our children is uncertain," he told The Business Standard.
Baghdad Dhaka Carpet Factory at Uttar Kattali, Karnafuli Jute Mills at Rangunia, Amin Jute Mills and Old Fields Limited at Sholoshohor, Gul Ahmed Jute Mills Ltd at Barabkunda Kumira, Hafiz Jute Mills Ltd and RR Jute Mills Ltd at Sitakunda Bara-Aulia, Galfra Habib Ltd at Nasirabad, and Mills Furnishings Ltd are among the shutdown factories in the port city of Chattogram.
Tajul Islam had been working at Hafiz Jute Mills since 2002 with a wage of Tk3,000 per week. The worker said he was struggling with the family of his mother, wife and children with the Tk12,000 monthly income.
"Now it is gone too. I do not know how I will survive the upcoming days," Tajul said, upset.
Fifty-year-old Nazrul and Hatem Ali worked at Amin Jute Mills for more than 30 years.
The two said it is impossible for them to find a new job at this age.
"It was beyond our wildest imagination that we would lose our job just a couple of years before retirement," they said.
On condition of anonymity, a guard at Hafiz Jute Mills said security staff were not allowing others to go in except the high-ups since Thursday. A similar scenario prevailed at Amin Jute Mills as workers gathered at the jute mill gate Saturday and none of them were allowed in.
Only a handful of labour leaders went inside to talk to the higher-ups.
Amin Jute Mills workers' leader Kamal Uddin said the factory's top brass assured them of their June payments within a week. Additionally, they assured they would make payments of other dues as per the government order.
Amin Jute Mills General Manager Kamrul Ahsan Khan said they shuttered the factory on July 2. He added that the workers would receive their payments in due time.