Goods-carrying river vessel workers across the country enforced an indefinite strike on Tuesday to press home their 11-point demand, primarily seeking formalisation of jobs and the implementation of 2016 pay scale.
The workers went on strike for the fourth time since 2019 in the early hours of the day while the same demands were first made back in 2015.
The nationwide strike disrupted goods-carrying services including loading and unloading of goods throughout the day.
At the outer anchorage of different ports and major river terminals, loading and unloading of goods remained suspended.
Vessel owners, at a press conference on the same day, said that they stopped paying the salaries and daily food allowances of the workers from Tuesday after the workers had gone on strike.
Till filing of this report at 7:30pm on Tuesday the workers’ leaders said that they did not get any call for discussion from either the government or the owners and the strike would continue until their demands would be met.
Around two lakh workers, under the banner of Bangladesh Noujan Shramik Federation, started the strike from 12:01am on Tuesday while movement of all goods-carrying vessels, including oil tankers and sand-carrying bulkheads stopped on all inland and India-Bangladesh protocol route.
Transportation of different construction and raw materials, fertilisers, food grains like rice, other food items like sugar and different imported and exported products have fallen under the purview of the strike.
Around 43 per cent of goods are carried through the waterways in the country, said the federation president Shah Alam Bhuiyan.
Their demands are — identification card and service book for waterways workers, the implementation of 2016 pay scale, proper appointment system, an end to intimidation, extortion and robbery on the waterways, an end to corruption and harassment in enrolment examinations, the distribution and renewal of certificates of masters and other workers, and Tk 10 lakh as compensation for the family of any worker in case of accidental death in the workplace.
They also demanded food allowance for all workers, re-fixing of technical allowances, sea allowances for workers working at Chattogram, Mongla and Payra ports’ outer parts, social security of the workers and set-up marks, lights and buoys to ensure safe and protected navigation in waterways.
New Age correspondent in Chattogram reports that hundreds of goods-carrying ships have been floating in the outer anchorage of the Chittagong Port and terminals of different rivers including the river Karnaphuli due to the strike.
After 7:00am on Tuesday, no lighter ship went to the outer anchorage to unload goods following the strike.
Even the lighter ships which were unloading goods from mother vessels for the last few days suspended their work and came back to the terminal without finishing the unloading process.
Usually 1600 lighter ships load goods from the mother vessels and unload those in different terminals of the country including the 16 terminals of the river Karnaphuli.
Chittagong Port Authority secretary Omar Faruq said that on the day the mother vessels waited
at the outer anchorage where no unloading took place.
He said that goods unloading and loading continued in the container jetties of the port.
On Tuesday afternoon, vessel owners, under the banner of Bangladesh Cargo Vessel Owners’ Association, organised a press conference in the capital and decided to stop paying salaries and daily food allowances to the workers starting from the same day as they dubbed the strike illogical.
The association general secretary Md Nurul Haque told New Age that due to the COVID-19 outbreak they were incurring huge losses and struggling to give salaries to the workers.
Bangladesh Noujan Shramik Federation president Shah Alam Bhuiyan told New Age that if the owners stop providing them salaries and daily food allowances, they would leave the vessels.
‘We’ll continue the strike till a satisfactory solution is found,’ he said and added that around two lakh workers across the country were directly involved in the sector.
Earlier on Monday, a daylong meeting was held between the workers and owners, but no decision was made regarding their demands, he added.
The federation joint secretary Nobi Alam said that 50,000 waterways workers worked in Chattogram.
All cargo- and oil-carrying vessels were found anchored at different parts of the Kirtankhola River after the strike began, reported New Age correspondent in Barishal.
Although passenger-carrying water transports remained out of the purview of the strike due to the upcoming Durga Puja festival of the Hindu community, the workers of that sector would also join the strike if their demands were not met, said Sk Abul Hashem, secretary of Barishal unit BNSF.
This is for the fourth time the workers enforced a nationwide strike to press home their demands, he added.
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