The strike called by the Bangladesh Water Transport Workers' Federation has crippled the transportation services for both goods and passengers across the country.
A section of water transport workers began abstaining from work at 12:01am on Saturday to press home their 11-point demand, which include full implementation of the 2016 pay scale, issuance of identity cards, service books and appointment letters.
Since early hours, transportation of goods on waterways, loading cargo from mother vessels at the outer anchorage of Chattogram port and unloading goods from lighter vessels across the country remained at a standstill.
A total of 3.1 million tonnes of goods are now floating on ships throughout the country, waiting to be unloaded.
According to Chattogram port authorities, unloading of around 1.365 million tonnes of different types of cargo, including food grains, fertilizer, cement clinker and sugar from 57 mother vessels remained halted on Saturday.
Sources from the Water Transport Cell said that over 1.8 million tonnes of cargo on 986 lighter vessels at 37 river docks are waiting to be unloaded. More than half a million tonnes of goods belonging to 11 industrial groups on 300 lighter vessels are also in need of unloading.
Chittagong Port Authority Secretary Md Omar Faruk told The Business Standard, "Goods unloading at the outer anchorage of the port was halted soon after the strike began on Saturday.
"If the strike continues, the average waiting time for mother vessels will increase. The average waiting time for mother vessels at the outer anchorage is 5-6 days for bulk carriers and 2.6 days for container vessels."
But loading and unloading of goods at port jetties are continuing normally, added Faruk.
For overstay, a mother vessel at the outer anchorage of Chattogram port has to pay Tk8.5 lakh to Tk12.7 lakh as demurrage every day. The lighter vessels also have to pay demurrage depending on the size of the ship.
Several businessmen said that if the import cost increases, the price of goods will also increase eventually. In the end, the consumers will have to pay the price. Such recurring strikes by water transport workers will cause the prices of goods to skyrocket and result in immense economic losses for the country.
They also pointed out that as the country's waterways are paralysed, it will eventually paralyse the whole economy as well, due to halted unloading of goods and disrupted supply chains.
There will also be a huge shortage of consumer market goods and industrial raw material. The waterways transport strike will also hinder ongoing development projects of Bangladesh, they added.
Addressing the issue, Mahbubul Alam, president of Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, "The workers should refrain from disrupting operational activities in the port. These recurring strikes are posing a great threat to our economy."
He urged the government to take necessary measures to resolve the issue as soon as possible for the betterment of the country.
Suffering of passengers
Passenger transportation on waterways were suspended on 43 routes across the country on Saturday.
During a visit to the Sadarghat Launch Terminal, the correspondent saw hundreds of passengers waiting for hours with uncertainty about their journey amid the strike.
Responding to a query, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority official Rafiqul Islam said that only 16 left Sadarghat launch terminal for different destinations till 4pm, out of the 26 vessels scheduled to leave.
Mina Begum, 35, a Barishal-bound passenger, said she along with her two daughters came to the terminal from Savar after a four-hour-long bus journey.
"We had planned to go to Barisal as my daughter's annual examination just ended. I didn't know about the strike," she said.
Abdul Sobhan, 50, who works at the Department of Livestock in Barguna, came to Dhaka for office work. But he could not go back due to the strike.
Rani Begum, 45, who came to Dhaka last week to visit her daughter, was also seen waiting at the terminal alone amid uncertainty.
Passengers of ten other water vessels that were scheduled to depart the terminal were unaware if they would be able to go to their destinations due to the ongoing strike of water transport workers.
When contacted, Chowdhury Ashiqul Alam, general secretary of Bangladesh Water Transport Workers' Federation, said, "We will continue the strike until our demands are met."
The workers' demands are: initiatives to end intimidation, extortion and piracy on waterways, full implementation of the 2016 pay scale, adaptation of an appointment system, providing identity cards and service books, stopping corruption and harassment in enrolment examinations, and the distribution and renewal process of certificates of masters and other workers.
Other demands include: Tk10 lakh as compensation for the families of the workers in case of deaths or accidents at the workplace, introduction of life insurance policy for workers, provident fund under the government management, food and sea allowance for all waterways workers, providing landing passes, and stopping harassment of India-bound workers.