Amin Jute Mills in Chittagong |
Workers clash with cops for wage: 1 killed, 80 hurt
Our Correspondent, Ctg
Clashes between police and workers agitating for outstanding wages left one labourer killed and at least 80 including 30 cops injured at Amin Jute Mills here yesterday.
Police arrested 18 people including five injured workers. Many of those wounded stayed away from Chittagong Medical College Hospital (CMCH) for fear they too might be arrested.
Of the injured policemen, 15 were rushed to the Police Lines Hospital while five received treatment at the CMCH.
The fight broke out when police charged baton to drive off some 600 workers who were barricading the rail line inside the mill and the road in front of the main gate at around 10:00am, said eyewitnesses.
Mostly hailing from the northern districts, the demonstrators were clamouring for wages unpaid for about three weeks. Dispersed, they took position just ahead of the staff colony adjoining the Chittagong-Hathazari rail track and soon started throwing stones at the cops.
In return, police fired tear gas canisters and moved into the agitators running helter-skelter to get away from tear gas. They picked up some 10 workers and gave them severe beatings on the spot. Later, one succumbed to his injury on way to the CMCH.
The hospital sources confirmed they had received body of an unidentified worker aged around 22.
As the news reached the premises of the country's largest jute mill after Adamjee, the fellow labourers flew into a fury. Over 50 workers and some 30 cops were injured in a series of clashes that ensued and continued till 3:00pm, said police and eyewitnesses.
Four journalists including Mashiur Rahman Badal of the Bangla daily Jai Jai Din were among the wounded.
Alam, a worker's son who later in the day ended up being held by the police, said that around 2,500 permanent and shift workers were not being paid regularly for the last 11 weeks.
"Most of them are from flood-hit northern districts where miseries of their families have multiplied in absence of the money they would send," he added.
A hand in the swing section of the mill for the last 28 years said the factory authorities last week assured them of a week's pay Monday. Yesterday was the pay day but they did nothing, said the worker preferring anonymity.
"The authorities have turned a deaf ear to our sufferings and forced us to go into agitation," he added.
Contacted, Deputy General Manager (administration) Naimuddin Hossain said they were ready to pay wages for the current week and did not have money enough to cover the last week's pay as well.
He, however, admitted, "In recent months, the mill staff did not get wages regularly."
A huge contingent of police including two platoons of Armed Police Battalion were deployed in the area since early morning to defuse the tension but to no avail.
Members of the joint forces including paramilitary BDR and the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) stood guard at different entry points in the tense hours that followed the clashes.
Meanwhile, a meeting between the mill authorities and the workers representatives was going on till filing of this report late in the evening.
Amin Jute Mills Ltd is no stranger to financial crisis. It has been considered a losing concern for the past seven to eight years.
The unsettled debts, wages, electricity and gas bills, municipality tax and cost of jute procurement total more than Tk 150 crore, factory sources said.
Even a golden handshake for its 5,000 workers in 2004 and 2005 could not change things for the better.
Now its workforce stands at a little over 2,500. Of them, around 2,000 including officials are full-time staff while the rest are shift workers. They are paid weekly in arrears.
Mill authorities said that they have long been faced with acute financial crisis and are unable to pay the wages regularly.
"We sometimes pay them as per an arrangement with the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC)," said DGM Naimuddin Hossain.
Another official seeking anonymity told The Daily Star that the mill has to count a huge amount in interest per month on over Tk 90-crore bank loan.