A nationwide strike enforced by water transport workers has brought launch services to a halt on waterways linking the southern districts to the rest of the country.
Although a few vessels reportedly left the Sadarghat terminal on Saturday morning, commuters in Chandpur and other districts have been left to suffer the consequences of the indefinite strike called by Bangladesh Water Transport Workers’ Federation at 12:01am on Saturday.
Workers are pressing for an 11-point charter of demands, including the provision of appointment letter, identity cards and food allowance, among others, bdnews24.com reports.
They have long been demonstrating over their demands, but the launch owners only gave assurances instead of meeting those, according to Shah Alam, president of Bangladesh Water Transport Workers’ Federation.
The decision to go on an indefinite strike was taken after a meeting with government officials on Nov 27 only yielded more assurances, said Shah Alam.
The Chandpur launch terminal has been paralysed by the strike. Launch services from the district to Dhaka, Narayganj, Barishal and Shariyatpur have stalled much to the dismay of passengers. Passenger vessels depart Chandpur for different destinations at 6am everyday. But not a single launch left the jetty on Saturday.
"I didn't know about the strike so now I'm having problems," said Abul Bashar, a passenger.
Passengers in Barishal are scrambling for alternative transportation due to the strike. Some people are completing short-distance commutes on trawlers for exhorbitant fares.
"Vessels which left for Dhaka on Friday returned to the Barishal launch terminal early Saturday. But none of the vessels have undocked since due to the workers' strike," said Azmal Huda Mithu, a BIWTA official in Barishal.
The work abstention programme has also disrupted the loading and unloading of cargo from ships in Mongla. Cargo ships, coasters and tankers remained docked in the port on Saturday.
A total of 26 vessels carrying fertilizers, gas and clinkers are at the jetty, said Commander Fakhr Uddin Ahmed, Mongla Port Authority's harbour master.
According to Fakhr, the port could be clogged with goods if the strike continues and it could also result in financial losses for importers.
"At least 20,000 water vessels transport cargo and passengers across the country with over 200,000 people working in the industry. But there have been a number of robberies on the waterways over the last 10 years," said Anwar Hossain Chowdhury, general secretary of Bangladesh Launch Labour Association's Mongla Upazila wing.
Citing the lack of security for water transport workers, he said the strike will rage on until their demands are met.
Despite the ongoing strike, a number of vessels left Dhaka's Sadarghat for different destinations on Saturday. As many as 20 launches were scheduled to depart the terminal until 12 pm on Saturday, of which, only eight remain docked, according to Humayun Kabir, transport inspector of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority or BIWTA.
Ham Jalal, a member of Inland Navigation and Passenger Transport Association, branded the strike 'unreasonable' as launch owners had already struck a five-year deal with the river transport workers in 2016, accepting their main demands.
We were able to operate launch services in the morning since the master drivers and captains came for duty. But we don't know what's going to happen in the afternoon. We've said from the start that they shouldn't enforce a strike like this."
But Shah Alam claims the owners are 'forcing' other staffers to operate launches as master drivers and captains are observing the strike.
"Master drivers sought permission to depart today just as they do on any other day. We don't allow vessels to set sail unless the appropriate personnel are at the helm," said Humayun.