At a crunch time like the visitation of unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, low-income groups everywhere in the world, for reasons understandable, are at the receiving end of woes. Wage earners and fixed income groups with no alternative source of income are worse off. But where factories and industries are endemically sick, the sufferings of workers and low-level employees know no bounds. In this country, the Bangladesh Sugar and Food Industries Corporation (BSFIC), the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) and the Bangladesh Textile Mills Corporation (BTMC) - all state-owned enterprises (SOEs) - have a long history of mixed performance. Barring a brief period of realising their potential, most such SOEs have proved a white elephant. Government policies together with misgovernance over time were responsible for rendering them sick. Now injection of fresh blood fails to pull them out of the woods. The government has to subsidise in order to keep those in operation.
Of the 15 enterprises under the state-owned sugar mills corporation with more than 15,000 employees, Carew and Company is the only one to pay salaries and wages regularly. Irregularity in payment of dues has reportedly led to near starvation of workers of other enterprises. In fact the sugar corporation has long remained sick and its obsolete mills are incurring losses. Those produce far less amount of sugar compared to modern mills. It is because of this, price of sugar here is abnormally higher than in India where advanced technology keeps the production cost low. At times they even fail to pay farmers for sugarcanes they supply. Under an arcane system, farmers in the mill area are compelled to sell their produce to the mills. They have had a complaint for long that had they been free to produce molasses from sugarcane, they would have enjoyed a ready market with assured hefty profits.
If the BSFIC enterprises' problems owe to old technology and obsolete mills, the ones under the BJMC and BTMC do not even have any ruse for running their enterprises in losses. After the genome sequencing of jute, in particular, there is a golden opportunity for the once golden fibre to recapture its lost glory. Already a viable replacement of polythene has been invented out of jute, courtesy of a local scientist. This milestone invention alone can be enough to revive the golden fibre's fortune if there is effective policy support for exploring its commercial potential. The BTMC also should do well if it is linked with the country's apparel industry to their mutual benefit.
The government cannot make available rescue fund eternally for propping up sick enterprises. Now in the corona regime, there are gaping holes everywhere. The enterprises under the BJMC are relatively in a better position to take care of its workers than those under the BSFIC. But workers of the BTMC enterprises are in dire straits as only seven out of 25 those are in operation and are leased out to private entrepreneurs. There is none to take their responsibility. However, considering their plight, at least some alternative arrangement should be made for their survival until the pandemic disappears.
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