WHEN the closure of the 25 state-owned jute mills under the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation has rendered about 50,000 workers jobless amidst widespread criticism, the police coming to have detained two labour leaders is unacceptable. The detention also points to a continued repression on labour rights and labour movements. The Khulna city police detained two jute mill worker leaders early Monday and in the evening admitted having detained them. The leaders, one of the Platinum Jubilee Jute Mills at Khalishpur and the other of the Eastern Jute Mills at Khanjahan Ali, were reportedly active in movements for saving the jute sector. Since July 2, when the government formally announced the closure of all the state-owned jute mills rendering the workers jobless overnight in a trying time when the COVID-19 outbreak has strained the livelihoods of millions, workers of the jute mills, along with different political parties and labour rights organisations, have protested at the government decision on the closure of the jute mills and their handover to the private sector on the grounds that the mills had incurred a huge amount of losses year after year.
Such police action, purported to thwart a possible labour movement and unrest, is one major reason cited for Bangladesh’s having been ranked among the 10 worst countries for working people. While workers’ grievances should be addressed by the government, the government and its agencies concerned appear to have routinely allowed the violation of worker rights. The 2020 Global Rights Index: The World’s Worst Countries for Workers, published by the International Trade Union Confederation, which ranked Bangladesh among the 10 worst countries for working people for the fourth consecutive year, said that the labour rights state in Bangladesh is marked by, among others, police brutality, mass dismissal and the arrest of union leaders. In the case at hand, labour leaders and labour rights activists have criticised the government decision to close the jute mills on the grounds of repeated losses that may have resulted from irregularities and mismanagement in the sector that the government has not been able to stop. It is not, therefore, an unfounded question that when jute mills in the private sector, which constitute 95 per cent of the jute mills, make profits, why the government cannot run its mills profitably.
The government must, under the circumstances, not go tough on the workers and labour leaders and attend to their grievances and act accordingly. The government must also ensure that the promised financial benefits for workers are disbursed early and must keep its promises of the reappointment of the workers once the mills resume their operation under the public-private partnership schemes.
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