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Bangladeshi Waterways Unions End Strike

On May 14, waterways workers in Bangladesh ended a seven-day nationwide strike that severely disrupted the country's transport system after union leaders accepted an agreement from the government and water transport owners to raise wages.

The agreement was signed by a federation of six trade unions.

The strike by 150,000 members of the federation had paralyzed transport in Bangladesh, which relies heavily on its waterway system. Delays in jet fuel shipments threatened to ground planes in Dhaka’s Shahjalal International Airport, and some flights were cancelled on May 12, according to bdnews24.com, an online Bangladesh news outlet.

The wage increase was the strikers’ main demand. Before the agreement, water transport workers earned Tk 1,350 (about $20 U.S.) a month. They had not received a raise since 2004, and several previous promises to review their wages had not been met. The wage offer, though only 50 percent rather than the 300 percent increase demanded by strikers, allowed both sides to claim victory.

But it came paired with tough government actions. The government jailed a dozen union and activist leaders, and threatened loss of work certificates to any strikers who didn¹t return to work by 5:00 p.m. May 14. After that
deadline, returning workers must “plead for mercy” to avoid prosecution and possible loss of work licenses, said Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan.

Included among the strikers’ list of 22 demands was stopping waterways “extortion and robbery,” ending corruption in the shipping ministry, and increased dredging.

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