Faculty, university employees in Bangladesh strike against new pension plan

Millions of higher education students were locked out of classes on the first day of an indefinite work stoppage.
Kamran Reza Chowdhury
2024.07.01
Dhaka
Faculty, university employees in Bangladesh strike against new pension plan A man walks past padlocked doors at Dhaka University as professors and other employees strike against a new pension plan, July 1, 2024.
Sony Ramany/BenarNews

Up to 4.4 million students were shut out of classes and exams at 53 public universities in Bangladesh on Monday as professors and other faculty went on an indefinite strike to demand the government cancel a new pension scheme. 

Faculty members who are already on pension plans said the “Prottoy scheme,” effective July 1, could reduce their retirement pay despite government assurances to the contrary.

“We are supposed to be in class. We are not supposed to hold a press conference or a human chain, but there is nothing we can do,” Professor Nizamul Hoque Bhuiyan, secretary general of the Federation of Bangladesh University Teachers’ Association, told BenarNews.

“If we allow the scheme, we will suffer a lot.” 

Across Bangladesh and at Dhaka University – the nation’s most famous campus – striking educators and employees formed human chains and performed other forms of protest on Monday. 

“The latest pension scheme is not acceptable to us. We have been asking the government for three months not to do this for universities where a pension system already exists,” Bhuiyan said.

Under Prottoy, 10% of basic salaries received by all employees or a maximum of 5,000 taka (U.S. $42.55), whichever is less, will be deducted and an equivalent amount will be given by their employers, according to the Ministry of Finance. All funds will be deposited to an account under the National Pension Authority.

On March 13, the Ministry of Finance announced that Prottoy would be introduced for all state-owned, autonomous, statutory or homogeneous organizations beginning July 1. Teachers and other employees of the public universities quickly announced their displeasure with the scheme.

While Prottoy is expected to be positive for those not covered, professors and others already enrolled in pension plans could see losses, according to protesters. They said professors could lose at least 10 million taka (U.S. $85,097) from their pensions.

On Monday evening, Bhuiyan said there had been no contact with authorities about the strike.

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Dhaka University faculty and other employees gather outside the Arts Building as they strike against a new Bangladesh pension system, July 1, 2024. [Sony Ramany/BenarNews]

State Finance Minister Waseqa Ayesha Khan said the Prottoy scheme was good for all employees.

“The state financial involvement in the present pension system … is not sustainable in the long run. But Prottoy is a sustainable pension system,” she told BenarNews on Monday, adding India has a similar system.

“With introduction of the new system, gradually people from all strata of the life will be brought under a sustainable social security structure. This will ensure financial inclusion and inclusive development,” she said.

Under the previous scheme, if a pensioner died before age 75, the surviving spouse would receive those funds up until that time, the finance minister said. 

“By participating in an appropriate universal pension scheme, the spouse of a pensioner can get pension for the rest of their life no matter whether they are public servants,” she said of Prottoy.

“But the existing pension system lacks a lifelong pension for spouses,” Khan said.

Support for existing plan

Despite the finance minister’s assurances, Abu Khaled Mohammad Khademul Hoque, a former joint secretary of the Dhaka University Teachers Association, talked about how Prottoy could hurt those already enrolled in a pension plan.

He said that under the previous scheme, a professor who retires after working at least 25 years would be eligible to receive two years’ pay. In addition, teachers can accrue up to 18 months of earned leave ahead of retirement.

“After calculating everything, it can be seen that a professor with the highest scale gets an average of 11.4 million taka [$97,000] after retirement. Most teachers build houses or buy flats with this money or open savings accounts with the money,” he said.

“Even after receiving this cash, he gets a maximum of 45,000 taka [$382] as pension every month. If he dies his spouse enjoys the pension for life. And in the case of children, there is pension benefit up to 18 years,” Hoque said.

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A classroom sits empty at Dhaka University, July 1, 2024. [Sony Ramany/BenarNews]

Post-graduate student Arafat Hossain Bhuiyan was among those who were locked out of class on the first day of the strike.

He said he was concerned not only about himself and other students at Dhaka University, but for Bangladesh as well.

“We want to go back to class,” he told BenarNews.

“My first-semester exam is done. I don’t know when the classes of my second semester will start,” said Hossain, a master’s degree student in the Islamic History and Culture department at Dhaka University.

He said students would suffer if the strike was prolonged, which will not be good for the country. 

“[T]here is an uncertainty among students at all levels – we support the logical demands of the teachers,” he said. “At the same time, we hope that the teacher and employee leaders and the authorities concerned with the government will resolve this issue immediately.” 

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