Water transport workers go on strike



Unloading of imported bulk cargo from cargo vessels at the outer anchorage of the Chattogram port remained suspended since the early hours of yesterday as water transport workers enforced countrywide indefinite work abstention to press home their 11-point demand.

Transport of imported goods from Chattogram to different parts of the country through inland water routes also remained halted.

However, unloading of bulk cargo from vessels berthed at the port’s main jetties and delivery of those goods through trucks went on at their usual pace, said Md Omar Faruk, secretary to Chattogram Port Authority.

Bangladesh Noujan Sramik Federation, a body of river transport workers, announced the strike to demanding issuance of food allowance for workers, appointment letters, identity cards and service books by the owners and stopping extortion and robbery on river routes.

It also sought to install necessary markers, buoys and lamps on river routes, bringing an end to all kinds of irregularities and harassment of workers at the Department of Shipping and ensuring social security of ship workers.

“We started the movement in September 2018. We were assured by the government and the owners that our demands would be met but they have not kept their promise,” said Nabi Alam, joint secretary to the federation.

“So, we had no option but to go on strike. We will not call off the strike until a final decision is taken to fulfil our demands,” he said.

On the first day of the strike, around 22.5 lakh tonnes of imported goods, including commodities and industrial raw materials, remained stuck.

These were at the outer anchorage of the Chattogram port and in a good number of lighter vessels anchored at 38 private docks across the country.

At least 37 bigger sized cargo vessels carrying 10.5 lakh tonnes of goods remained idle at the outer anchorage as the lighter vessels did not carry out the unloading, sources said.

The goods include wheat, lentil, sugar, salt, fertiliser and stone as well as industrial raw materials such as cement clinker and steel scrap.

Water Transport Cell (WTC), a private organisation that operates a portion of the existing lighter vessels, said they were supposed to unload goods from 19 out of the 37 vessels.

According to the WTC, the 19 cargo vessels were carrying around 5.27 lakh tonnes of goods.

Cargoes on the remaining vessels are usually handled by lighter vessels operated by owners of some big industrial factories like the Meghna Group of Companies and Abul Khair Group.

A total of 874 lighter vessels loaded with around 12 lakh tonnes of goods, including wheat, lentil, salt, raw sugar, soyabean, coal, stone, steel scrap, iron rod, cement and clinker, are stranded at 38 different private docks.

They are located in different areas like Chattogram, Narayanganj, Noapara, Nagarbari, Baghabari, Khulna, Barishal and Patuakhali.

If the strike continues, the stay time of cargo vessels at the outer anchorage will increase, said AKM Shamsuzzaman Rassel, chairman of the Bangladesh Ship Handling and Berth Operators Association.

This means importers would have to count demurrages for such idle stay of vessels, he said.

The vessel owners will have to count demurrages worth around $10,000 per day for idle stay of a vessel and the cost will be passed onto the shoulders of the importers, he added.

MONGLA PORT

Unloading of cargo from at least 12 large cargo vessels at the Mongla port has been halted due to the strike. A good number of lighter vessels remained stranded at the Poshur river in Bagerhat.

Sheikh Fakhar Uddin, harbour master of the Mongla port, said unloading of all types of goods through lighter vessels has remained suspended.

SK Abul Hashem, secretary to the Barishal unit of the workers’ federation, said passenger-carrying water transports have remained out of the purview of the strike due to the upcoming Durga Puja festival of the Hindu community.

However, those will be incorporated into the strike if the “legitimate” demands were ignored or left unfulfilled, he said. 

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