No end in sight to transport worker strike over new law

  • Senior Correspondent,
    Published: 2019-11-19 02:31:01 BdST


Transport workers' leaders insist they did not call a strike as buses remained off the roads in parts of the country, including Khulna and Rajshahi, much to the dismay of long-distance passengers.

But a section of transport owners and workers in 10 southwestern districts ostensibly went on strike after the new road transport act went into force on Monday.

Although they have been vehemently opposing the harsher punishments for traffic violations under the law since it was drafted, none of the stakeholders expressly admitted to calling a strike.

According to transport owners, workers are refusing to operate buses due to the severity of the law. But some workers claimed that the owners were reluctant to allow unfit vehicles to take the road.

Under the circumstances, the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation has called meetings on Nov 21 and Nov 22 to discuss concerns over the law. And the impasse is unlikely to end before then.

The federation's President Shajahan Khan said the new law has created 'confusion' among transport workers.

"We will have detailed discussions on the matter during the meetings before placing our demands to the government. We will draw the government's attention to the provisions that should be amended. I believe the government will take our demands into consideration."

The prime minister has never singled out drivers for blame over road accidents, said Shahjahan.

"Every country has road traffic laws and we should too. But measures must be taken to clarify the law since it's not clear to all."

But the remarks of transport leaders in the Khulna region on the matter suggest that Shahjahan's calls are likely to fall on deaf ears.

Khulna Motor Workers Union President Kazi Md Nurul Islam Baby said drivers have 'willingly' stopped operating buses and are refusing to turn up for work.

"They are not listening to us. We tried to convince them to give us until the federation's meetings on Nov 21 and Nov 22. But they decided to stay away. How can we run buses without drivers?"

On whether the bus services could resume on Tuesday, Baby said, "There's no trace of the transport workers. Only god knows how long this strike will last."

Baby nonetheless sided with the workers over their concerns with the new law and said, "The monthly earnings of a bus driver is about Tk 20,000 to Tk 25,000 at most. Then how are they supposed to work if they have to pay fines of Tk 25,000 to Tk 500,000?"

Transport workers stopped operating buses across Rajshahi, halting services on the Rajshahi-Chapainawabganj, Naogaon and Natore routes.

Fearing the implications of the new law, drivers and assistants voluntarily refrained from running buses on all routes, said Sujit Kumar Ghosh, acting general secretary of Sherpur District Bus-Minibus Owners Association.

Although bus services were operational in Chattogram, many remain anxious about the effects of the transport law, according to Md Musa, president of the Road Transport Workers' Federation's Chattogram wing.

"Transport workers are anxious and afraid. They are thinking about not driving."

The non-bailable offences under the new law are of particular concern to transport workers, said Musa.

"If investigators deem a driver responsible for an accident, they can start a case under Section 302 and the offence won't qualify for bail. It is akin to a murder case."

The government introduced the new law in 2018 following an unprecedented movement by students for safer roads, after two students were killed in separate bus accidents in Dhaka. The new law has a provision for a five-year jail term and fine as punitive measures for deaths in road crashes.