The general tea garden workers and union leaders are now divided over continuing their indefinite strike for a hike in their daily wage to Tk 300 from Tk 120, after the leaders signed a deal with the government at 3am Monday to return to work.
Following a meeting held between the Bangladesh Tea Worker Union Leaders and Moulvibazar district administration that started Sunday night and ran into the wee hours of Monday, the union leaders announced the workers will withdraw their strike and return to work with the issue of their wages unresolved, except for a vague promise that the prime minister herself would intervene in the matter, at some point before Durga Puja.
However, on Monday morning when two leaders went to call the workers of Kalighat tea garden in Sreemangal upazila for suspending the strike and returning to work, a group of general workers agitated over the decision and allegedly a physical altercation broke out.
Similar situations arose in other gardens on Monday as some of the general workers returned to work while others refused to follow the decision and continued the strike.
Tea Workers Rights Movement President Ridesh Modi said, “Why did we enforce a strike for so long if we have to return to work with the previous wage?”
On Sunday night an emergency meeting was held between the tea worker leaders and Moulvibazar district administration, apparently on instructions from the Prime Minister to resolve the current situation.
After the meeting led by Moulvibazar Deputy Commissioner Mir Nahid Hasan, a joint statement signed by both parties on five conditions was issued.
According to the written statement, Bangladesh Tea Workers Union reg No-B 77 would "withdraw their strike and join work from Monday, keeping faith and trust in the prime minister".
Regarding the wage, it mentioned the workers will rejoin work at the current daily wage of Tk 120 for the time being.
The union leaders claimed they appealed for holding a video conference with the prime minister before the Durga Puja celebration this year to present their demands through the district administration.
The statement was signed on condition of Moulvibazar DC submitting their demands to the prime minister in writing and the tea plantation owners paying the wages of workers forfeited during the strike, as per the prevailing practice and procedures, said the leaders.
Nipen Paul, General Secretary of Bangladesh Tea Workers Union, said on August 20 after a meeting with the Labour Department, they suggested the general workers return to work with a hiked wage of Tk 145 and suspend the strike for the time being. But they refused and preferred to work for the Tk 120 wage till the prime minister fixes the final wage for impoverished tea workers.
“We gave the statement in accordance with their demands," said Nipen Paul.
Mohan Rabidas, leading the general workers’ movement, said, ”The leaders never consulted with the general workers of the decisions they made or the meetings they held. The leaders are liable for the situation that has arisen now.”