More than 200,000 inland waterway transport workers in Bangladesh have won a tremendous 60 percent pay rise and greatly improved working conditions. The win comes after months of strike action and negotiations between the workers’ unions and vessel owners.
Naujan work aboard thousands of riverboats transporting passengers and cargo along the more than 4,800 kilometres of navigable rivers, canals and creeks which are critical to Bangladesh’s economy.
The workers are members of eight trade unions which form the Bangladesh Noujan Sramik Federation (BNSF). BNSF is affiliated to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).
ITF Inland Navigation Section chair, Yury Sukhorukov, welcomed BNSF’s victory: “We offer our congratulations to the naujan of Bangladesh – to the members and leadership of BNSF, who have won an impressive pay rise for their members. To organise, negotiate, campaign, and secure this kind of outcome is a credit to their determination and to their perseverance.”
Ashiqul Alam Chowdhury, BNSF General Secretary, said the victory will considerably improve the living standards of riverboat workers in Bangladesh. “For some crew, their wages will have nearly doubled from this time last year,” he said.
The new agreement includes:
- pay top-ups after 3, 6, and 9 years’ continuous service;
- a new housing allowance at up to 50 percent of basic pay;
- better medical cover;
- a new food allowance;
- a new washing allowance;
- improved working conditions;
- backdated pay rises to the beginning of November 2022.
Pay deal is a step forward on long road to addressing poverty wages
BNSF have confirmed that the new deal will see riverboat workers’ pay increase by 60 percent on average, with minimum wages set to rise across all grades.
For those on lower grades such as ordinary seamen, cooks and cleaning staff working onboard certain vessels along the country’s main waterways, the new rate will see their pay rise to BDT 18,765 (USD $176) per month, up from 10,000 BDT this time last year. For first-class masters, the senior-most grade, 55% pay rises lift their incomes to BDT 42,062 (USD $395).
The win sets new precedent for riverboat workers in Bangladesh who have faced historical mistreatment and stonewalling from both their government and from employers, both of whom have refused to act over the sector’s poverty wages.
Things had become dire in recent years, particularly after the government broke the link which tied riverboat worker’s wage increases to the pay rises state employees received.
While the win is breakthrough and makes up some of the lost ground, unions say it is still not enough. Most riverboat workers’ monthly income remains below the national average of 26,000 BDT.
More action is needed from Bangladesh’s Government and employers to address the sector’s poverty wages. Workers have reiterated calls for a minimum wage of at least BDT 20,000 per month for all Bangladeshi riverboat workers.
“This victory is important,” said Chowdhury. “But it is not our last. We have shown through our strike action how our work is critical to the economic life of Bangladesh. Without naujan, nothing moves in our country. We are the beating heart of Bangladesh.”
“I thank the ITF and its affiliated transport unions for standing in solidarity with the naujan. We will continue fight on together until all riverboat workers live in dignity and their rights are respected and guaranteed. Solidarity forever!” he said.