THE jute sector, which had been a major contributor to the economy for many decades, now fights a losing battle for survival. Lack of proper planning, mismanagement and persistent labour unrest are largely responsible for the situation. Irregular payment of workers monthly wages and non-payment of retirement benefits have become common. The Bangladesh Jute Mills’ Corporation, as a 2017 report says, owes Tk 387 crore to workers and officials who have retired or died in service since July 2013. The government announced a pay structure in June 2015, but it has not yet been implemented. Despite repeated assurances from authorities, due wages and retirement benefits remained unpaid. It is in this context state-owned jute mill workers and staff went on strike and held blockade on Tuesday to push for their demands, including adequate allocation for the sector, payment of dues to retired workers and expansion of jute mills. The road blockade caused immense suffering to people, particularly HSC examinees, a situation that the government could have avoided with timely action.
The corporation’s response to the issues of non-payment of due wage and retirement benefits remains that the mill owners are reeling from heavy losses because of high production cost. In the 2016–17 financial year, the total loss reached Tk 482 crore. Experts, however, blamed financial mismanagement, declining production and politicisation of the sector for this. These mills, established in the 1950s–1960s, have seen no investment in infrastructure and machinery, which eventually almost halved the production. Some corporation officials along with members of collective bargaining agents have bought raw jute in late season, when price is higher, putting production in trouble. In addition, there are reports of corruption in the purchase of spare parts and other materials. There are allegations that pervasive corruption is the reason for the high production cost. Timely allocation of money for raw jute purchase could improve the situation. Researchers agree and argue that in a stressed financial situation, mill owners often use the provident funds to meet daily expenses such as salary and wages. The situation at hand in which thousands of workers and their family struggle to survive because of the non-payment of wages and benefits is the result of corruption and mismanagement that successive governments have allowed. Meanwhile, jute mill workers are now paying the price for the sectoral corruption as their dues have been withheld for months.
The government, under the circumstances, must resolve the issue of non-payment of wages and dues under a concrete plan. It must immediately implement the recommendations of the National Wage and Productivity Commission 2015 for the jute sector. It must, however, attend to unaddressed issues of pervasive corruption to revive the jute industry.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Editorial