Dhaka, June 29 (efe-epa) – Hundreds of workers protested in Bangladesh on Monday after the government decided to close all 22 state-run jute factories in the country, jeopardizing the livelihoods of around 25,000 workers.
The decision, announced on Sunday, led to workers gathering a day later in front of jute factories in the southwestern city of Khulna.
“We demand that the government should run the factory. Workers are not responsible for any loss. (…) Nearly 70 percent of the workers have no permanent place to live. Now if the factory is closed during the times of coronavirus, where would they go,” Khalilur Rahman, a union leader at the Platinum Jute mill, told EFE.
Rahman said around 2,000 workers participated in the protest, although the number was estimated to be around half of that by the local police in-charge Sabbirul Alam, who said that the protest continued peacefully for about two hours.
Bangladesh’s Textiles and Jute Minister Golam Dastagir Gazi had on Sunday announced the decision to shut down all the government factories of jute, a plant-based fiber mainly used to manufacture coarse cloth sacks for packaging.
He did not give an exact date for the closure, but indicated it might be implemented as soon as Wednesday.
The minister cited heavy economic losses despite a “huge subsidy” from the government as the reason for the closure, even as the state-run factories produced only 4.45 percent of the total exported jute.
The fiber was among Bangladesh’s main exports in the decades after its independence, but its share has fallen in recent years.
“These mills are run with machinery that dates back 50 to 60 years. Moreover, the old-fashioned management system of BJMC (Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation) is not suitable for managing modern factories,” the jute ministry said in a statement.
The government has promised to compensate the workers being laid off, setting up a fund worth 50 billion taka ($588 million) for the purpose, and said that the factories would reopen in six months under a public-private partnership system and prioritize employing former workers.
However, the workers remain unconvinced and warned of further protests unless the government took back its decision.
Although the jute industry has lost the dominance it once enjoyed in Bangladesh, demand has again been picking up recently.
The country remains the top exporter of the product worldwide and exports grew 23.49 percent in the first 11 months of the financial year 2019-20 – ending on Jun. 30 – according to ministry data.
Total jute exports during the period stood at $817.97 million during this period. EFE-EPA