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Save the jute sector, give workers their arrears

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09th-May-2019       
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STATE-OWNED jute mill workers on Monday protested for arrears by blocking roads in the city's Demra area. The workers brought out the agitation 12 days after Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation's deadline for paying arrears expired. The jute industry is in such deep debt that the regular wage and arrears could not be paid. Paying no attention to this; the government is trying to popularize the once golden fibre by observing Jute Day on March 6 last. The jute workers in Demra, Khulna, Rajshahi and Chittagong have been on the streets for last few months, protesting against their mills, but the situation is too complex to solve.
The jute millers need to pay the workers Tk 1,600 crores if the new wage board is implemented this year. This figure includes the amount of money owed to the workers as back-wages over the last four years, during which time they should have legally gotten higher salaries as per the 2015 pay-scale. The ministry does not have enough money to pay the debt while it was allocated only Tk 186 crores as operational budget. In addition to this, over 8,000 workers and officials who have gone into retirement are owed over Tk 426 crores in gratuities and retirement benefits, and not a single coin of this amount has been handed over since 2013.
The 26 government-owned jute and jute-related mills collectively made a loss of Tk 455 crores last year. In 2016-17 fiscal, the loss was Tk 481 crores, while the loss was Tk 655 crores in 2015-16 and Tk 727 crore during the fiscal year 2014-15. This year the loss is projected to be over Tk 1,000 crores if the BJMC pays the workers their back-wages.
As the wages remain unpaid, and when government is not yet certain about granting a bailout, workers are in dire straits. A total of 250 police cases have been filed against the workers because they protested. As there is no indication that the workers will get their due retirement benefits, many jute mill workers are likely to go retirement empty-handed. We believe the government did a lot for the jute sector, but there are still too many to do.

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