Hours before the end of their Bangladesh-wide strike, transport workers’ leader Osman Ali has said they will hit the nation with longer strikes in November if their demands remained unmet. The transporters started the 48-hour strike at 6am on Sunday over a raft of demands, including cancellation of maximum Tk 500,000 fines for drivers involved in road traffic accidents in a recently passed law. The strike has crippled the country and caused immense public sufferings.
The protesting transporters have also harassed journalists and motorcycle riders at some places.
“Our programme will end tomorrow (6am on Tuesday) for now,” Osman, the general secretary of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, told bdnews24.com on Monday evening.
Asked about the next course of their action, he said, “We will give the government a notice. If it does not meet our demands with 21 days, we will enforce a 96-hour strike.”
They will submit the notice to the road transport and bridges ministry on Nov 3, according to Osman.
On Sunday, roads minister Obaidul Quader urged the protesters to call the strike off, saying it would not be possible to change the law before the next parliament session.
Parliament is not going to convene before the general elections scheduled by the end of this year or early next year.
Osman believes the government can change the law now if it wants to.
“Parliament is not needed to make a law. An ordinance can be issued and it can be passed in parliament later,” he said, claiming the then president HM Ershad did the same to amend the Motor Vehicle Act in 1983.
“If the president can pardon a person sentenced to death thrice with only one signature, then cant he sign an ordinance for seven million transport workers now?” he asked.
Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan, who is also the president of the transport workers federation, has declined comment on the strike.
He had attended the cabinet meeting in which the draft transport law had been cleared, but skipped Mondays one. The ministry said he left Dhaka on hearing the news of the death of a relative.
The long-awaited draft of the Road Transport Act was passed in the face of intense pressure following a bus accident in Dhaka on July 29 that led to the death of two students and student protests calling for road safety.
But transport workers have objected to several parts of the law and are demanding they be cancelled.
The demands include making all offences under the Road Transport Act bailable, the cancellation of the provision that allows a worker to be fined Tk 500,000 for involvement in a road crash, and lowering minimum educational qualification required for obtaining driving licences from class VIII to class V.
They also demand transport worker representation on investigation committees on cases under section 302, and an end to harassment by the police.