The goods transport owners and workers’ association enforced a 72-hour countrywide strike from Tuesday morning to press for implementation of their 15-point demand, badly disrupting delivery of goods across the country.
Thousands of prime-movers, trailers, lorries and trucks remained idle in the Chittagong Port's adjoining areas, including Nimtola, Kadamtoli and Matarbari, from 6:00 am on the day, while goods transportation at land-ports remained halted.
The Truck and Covered Van Owners-Workers Oikyo Parishad called the strike to press for implementation of their demand, including withdrawal of advance tax from trucks and covered vans as well as issuance of heavy driving licences to truck and covered van drivers. They also protested against the new road transport act.
Mokbul Ahmed, president of the organisation, said the strike was called three days before - mainly to protest increase of advance tax three times without informing them.
Trucks and covered vans have been paying Tk 36,000 each as advance tax during the last three months, which previously was Tk 12,000.
Mokbul Ahmed told the FE that a letter with their demands was sent to eight ministries concerned, including road transport and bridges, home, and law - after the transportation cost was increased significantly. But, the government did not do anything to meet their demands.
A meeting between the home minister and the Oikkyo Parishad leaders was called. However, it was not held due to the minister's pre-scheduled programme.
The FE Chattogram correspondent adds: despite the strike, delivery of cargoes and containers at the jetties of the Chattogram Port was normal on Tuesday, as the schedule was fixed before calling the strike. After ending of the previous schedule, carrying of cargoes and containers to and from the port might stop.
The importers and exporters are very concerned over the situation. Particularly, the RMG sector might be the loser, if carrying of cargoes and containers from the port stops.
Abu Bakkar Siddik, president of the Prime Mover Owners Association, said there are 7,850 prime movers, trailers and lorries in the country, which are carrying containers from the Chattogram Port, and 15,780 workers are regularly working in those vehicles.
"Policemen harass the drivers and workers of prime movers, trailers and lorries regularly, as many of us have heavy engine driving licence, but the rest are working with light engine licence. Many of us are not getting the heavy engine licence due to corruption of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) officials."
On January 22, 2017, a meeting of the prime movers, trailers and lorries' union and the BRTA was held. As per decision of the meeting, a list of the drivers of prime movers, trailers and lorries was sent to the ministry, he recalled.
"Of the total 450 listed drivers, the BRTA issued heavy engine driving licences to only 68 drivers in April 2019. Later, we applied to renew the licences of all drivers in August 2019."
"We also met the BRTA chairman in this regard on September 19 last. But, the agency is yet to renew and issue heavy engine driving licences to our drivers."
"As a result, the drivers and workers are being harassed by policemen on the road every day. So, we demand issuing heavy engine licences to the drivers of prime movers, trailers and lorries immediately," he added.
Monir Ahamed, president of the Covered Van and Truck Owners Association in Chattogram, confirmed that trucks and covered vans are not operating.
He said, "We are observing the strike now, demanding 15 points - including providing heavy licence to drivers, and protesting the new road transport law."
Mahbubul Alam, president of the Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industries (CCCI), said, "We are fully against the strike. The owners, drivers and workers of prime movers, trailers, lorries and trucks cannot enforce such a strike by making the exporters and importers hostage. I call upon all to solve the crisis by discussion."
"The Chattogram Port is the key point of the country's economy. Carrying cargoes from the port to yards and from yards to yards will stop, if the strike continues without any discussion. As a result, maritime trades, export-import activities and RMG sector will suffer a lot," he added.
Mahbubul Alam, president of the Port Users Forum, also termed the three-day strike unfortunate, and urged all stakeholders concerned to solve the crisis immediately.
UNB adds: Apparel exporters have expressed anxiety over a three-day strike called by the Bangladesh Covered Van- Truck- Prime Mover Goods Transport Owners Association and Bangladesh Truck Drivers, Workers Federation.
A delegation of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) led by its acting President SM Mannan (Kochi) met Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal at his residence on Monday night and requested that steps be taken to resolve the problem, taking the interests of the industry into consideration.
The BGMEA delegation included Vice President Shahidullah Azim, Vice President (Finance) Khandoker Rafiqul Islam, Vice President Md. Nasir Uddin and Director Md. Khosru Chowdhury.
The BGMEA leaders said retail sales are growing in the major RMG export markets as stores are opening following mass vaccination there, and Bangladesh is getting a lot of work orders as a result. The issue of lead time is very important for the export-oriented RMG industry where every hour counts since manufacturers have to make shipment of products within the lead time specified by buyers.
So any strike at this moment will severely affect the industry, they said.
The BGMEA leaders urged the Home Minister to take steps to keep the transportation of export-import goods by road smooth and normal.
The Home Minister assured the delegation of addressing the problem through discussion with the leaders of transport associations, said a media release on Tuesday.
The BGMEA delegation said many buyers are demanding air shipment of products to make the delivery quicker as demand is rising sharply in their stores. Increased demand for air shipment has led to cargo congestion at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.But lack of sufficient number of scanning machines at the airport causes delays in air shipment, they said.
Moreover, one of the two existing explosive detection systems (EDS) often remains out of service due to lack of proper maintenance, BGMEA said.
So, buyers ask to have exported cargoes scanned at Kolkata airport due to lack of sufficient number of scanning machines, which results in cost rise and is not good for Bangladesh's image, they said.
The BGMEA leaders urged the Home Minister to take steps for increasing the number of EDS at the airport alongside regular maintenance.
The Home Minister assured them of addressing the issues.