Tea workers in Sylhet brought out a torch procession to press home their three-point demand including payment of their dues at Malinichhara Tea Estate on Tuesday. The workers under the banner of ‘Tea Garden Education Rights Implementation Council’ brought out the procession from Malinichhara Tea Estate and paraded towards Lakakkatura, Choukidekhi and ended at Rest Camp around 5:30 pm. Read more: Sylhet tea workers join work after 19 days of strike Organiser Adhir Baurir, chief organiser Sanjay Kanta Das expressed solidarity with the workers and spoke at the procession. Speakers from the procession said as per the rules, a bilateral deal was scheduled to be held per two years for raising the wages and other facilities of the workers but no deal has been signed yet in 2021-22. The Tea Estate Owners did not pay any heed to the demand of the workers, they said. The daily wage for the tea estate workers has been raised to Tk 170 from Tk 120 after a 19-day movement in August, but the owners did not provide their extended arrears for the last 19 months. They demanded payment of their dues immediately. Read more: Tea workers’ daily wage set at Tk170: Fair? The tea workers also threatened to go for another movement if their demand goes unheeded and the owners and government would be held responsible for that. The workers also demanded Tk 500 wage daily and 5kg of ration. They also demanded to provide education stipend and educational materials to their children free of cost. The workers at the country's 167 tea plantations went on a strike in August last to press for increasing their daily pay to Tk300, given the recent price hike of the essential commodities.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today (September 3, 2022) asked all to remain vigilant so that the local tea industry is not harmed. “Our tea industry is crucial for us, it is a foreign exchange earning crop. So this industry must not be harmed; it must flourish,” she said. The Prime Minister said this while exchanging views with tea workers from Moulvibazar, Habiganj, Sylhet and Chattogram areas through video conference from her official residence Ganabhaban. She said that the Awami League government has always worked for betterment of the tea workers and to expand the tea estates. Also read: Sylhet tea workers join work after 19 days of strike She mentioned that the area and character of tea workers are different compared to other workers. In this connection she said that tea workers did not have citizenship of the country. She said that Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave them citizenship when he was the Industries Minister in 1954. “Because of that, I think we have some added responsibilities towards you. We have always tried to address your problems,” she said. Also read: Tea workers’ daily wage set at Tk170: Fair? The Prime Minister said that a few days back when the tea workers raised demands to increase their wages, she held meeting with owners of tea estates and set the daily wages and other facilities for the tea workers. She said that the government has taken measures so that the owners ensure their dignity and look after the tea workers. The Prime Minister briefly described initiatives of overall development of the country and said that the government has taken steps to ensure homes for every person in the country. She said that due to the coronavirus pandemic and Russia-Ukraine war, prices of essentials have seen significant increase. “The wave of that blow reached Bangladesh, and we are trying to provide food for people at fair prices, so that they can sustain their families with the income,” she said. Later, she patiently listened to the tea workers who spoke from the four districts. Recently, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina directed tea estate owners to raise the daily wage of tea workers to Tk 170 from Tk 120 after holding a meeting with them following the demands of the tea workers. The workers' other benefits, including plucking bonus (benefit for plucking additional tea leaves), festival bonus, earned leave and sick leave allowances, provident fund, ration card and retirement facilities will also be increased proportionately.
If one group was found missing in the recent movement by the tea garden workers for higher wages, they were economists. They were needed the most. Ultimately the wages were fixed at 170 by the PM personally. In a follow up to the wage fixing, which seemed meager to most, the PM’s Principal Secretary pointed out that the wages reflect only the monetary part and if one took into account benefits like medical, food subsidy and the rest, it would come to Taka 450-500 approximately. The problem is that no one is sure what those are and what should be fair. The PS is not expected to say otherwise as it’s his job to defend the GOB’s position. However, he has a point that only wages should not count. This applies to all sectors where benefits are given on top of wages. However, tea garden workers are not the same as rmg workers of Dhaka or any other industrial sector workers. They do constitute a part of the historical legacy of the plantation economy under colonialism. The poorest in colonial Bengal, many from Orissa and adjacent regions of Bengal, were brought to the Sylhet zone to work. The conditions they live in are very significant to bonded laborers elsewhere. Industrial wage workers' arrangements don’t fit them. They are not free to work elsewhere. Hence comparisons with other sectors can be misleading. Read: Who are the tea workers? A brief profile Some realities * Tea garden workers live like serfs who are tied to their gardens. They can’t leave even if they want to. They are born and they die in the same place. This is because of both the location of gardens and its geo-economy. It’s impossible to have tea gardens elsewhere so whoever works in the garden is never free. * They can’t survive if they are not provided with food subsidies and some –very inadequate- medical facilities. They would be dead very quickly and that means no workers. So the subsidies and facilities are not bonus wages to the workers but in the interest of the garden owners as well. No workers no gardens * No one knows and no one has calculated what the range of the facilities is and what they cost. This has to be calculated in terms of the loss a unit worker suffers from working in isolation with no access to other work opportunities. * The garden workers walk miles to their work which is symptomatic of their special condition of work and life. They are stuck to their conditions because the benefits offered to them don’t include skills training or post-primary education. They can’t switch jobs. In free Bangladesh, they are the least free population group helped by the fact that they are low caste Hindu non-Bengalis in an overwhelmingly Bengali-Muslim space. What needs immediate attention? A proper scientific assessment based on the ground realities of denial and access and the special conditions of the tea garden workers needs to be done by experts. What is fair wages and benefits needs identification specifically for them. They are not the same as other industrial workers and till we accept this reality of colonial planation slavery like conditions they live in, we shall continue to tolerate it like proto-colonials .
A section of tea workers agreed to suspend their ongoing strike after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina raised their daily wage to Tk 170 from Tk 120 on Saturday, in a meeting with the owners of the tea gardens. Another section however, would make a decision after further consultation among themselves. Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary Ahmed Kaikaus said that the daily wage for the tea workers has been set by the Prime Minister on behalf of the workers after a meeting held with the tea garden owners at her official residence Ganabhaban. Also read: Tea workers' wages raised to Tk170 a day after meeting with PM She also requested the workers to go back to their respective works, he added. The general tea workers are satisfied with the PM’s decision and they will join the work from Monday as Sunday is their holiday, said Bijoy Hazra, organizational secretary of Bangladesh Tea Workers Union and president of Balishira Valley to UNB. Mohon Rabidas, convener of newly formed ‘Cha Sramik Odhikar Parishad’ (Tea Workers Rights Council), said “We have heard the news and will take further decision in this regard after consulting with the general workers.” The movement started on August 9, when workers from tea gardens across the country abstained from work for two hours, demanding Tk 300 as daily wages. As their demand was not met, they decided to go on a full-scale strike from August 13. Also read: Tea workers continue strike for Tk 300-a-day wages After holding meetings with tea garden owners and other stakeholders in the past two weeks, the tea workers’ union leaders agreed to resume work but that was rejected by the general workers.
The daily wages for the tea estate workers have been raised to Tk 170 from Tk 120, a senior official said on Saturday night. Apart from this, the other facilities for the workers will be increased proportionately. Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary Ahmad Kaikaus announced it after a meeting with the tea garden owners. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina chaired the meeting held at her official residence Ganabhaban. Tea Garden Owners’ Association president Shah Alam led the owners' delegation at the meeting. Kaikaus said the daily wages for the tea garden workers have been set by the prime minister on behalf of the workers. She also requested the workers to go back to work in their plantations, he added. Earlier, in the meeting, the prime minister said Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took over as the chairman of the Tea Board in 1957 and granted citizenship to these workers who did not have any citizenship. He also gave some other facilities to the tea garden workers, she said. She said during her 1996-2001 term she gave some other facilities considering the importance of the tea industry. She also said the AL government took initiatives to expand the tea gardens from Sylhet and Chattogram to other places in the country including Panchagarh, Kurigram, Thakurgaon and Lalmonirhat. “They (tea workers) work very hard and the owners earn. It is the responsibility of all to look after their wellbeing,” she said. She said due to the coronavirus pandemic all are affected, but these people who work very hard, have to be taken care of properly. Weeks ago, the workers at the country's 167 tea plantations went on a strike to press for increasing their daily pay to Tk300, given the recent price hike of the essential commodities Read: Who are the tea workers? A brief profile Kaikaus said that in the tea industry the workers get a number of other facilities which are borne by the owners. He mentioned that due to the enhancement of the daily wages the plucking bonus and factory right work income will be increased proportionately. He also mentioned that the annual leave allowance and festival allowance will also go up proportionately. He said that the contributions of the employers to the workers’ provident fund and the annual festival bonus as per the presence at will be enhanced. He also mentioned that the owners give to workers food ration at Tk 2 per head against the procurement cost of Tk 28 per packet. He said that the PM will soon hold a video conference with the tea estate workers to know in details their working and living condition.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will hold talks with tea estate owners Saturday as the workers at the country’s 167 tea plantations continued their indefinite strike for the 18th day Friday for raising their wages to Tk 300 from Tk 120. The workers abstained from work today, but they did not stage any demonstrations, said Deorachra Tea Garden Panchayat Committee President Subod Kurmi. Besides, there will be Panchayat committee meetings in 92 plantations of Moulvibazar district on Friday night to discuss the further steps to press for the pay hike. Read: Tea garden workers continue strike in Sylhet Meanwhile, PM Hasina is scheduled to meet with representatives from tea plantation workers and owners sides at Ganabhaban on Saturday afternoon, confirmed PM’s Press Secretary Ihsanul Karim. The movement started on August 9, when workers from tea gardens across the country abstained from work for two hours, demanding Tk 300 as daily wages. As their demand was not met, they decided to go on a full-scale strike from August 13. After holding meetings with tea garden owners and other stakeholders in the past two weeks, the tea workers’ union agreed to the resumption of work from Monday and got Tk 120 as wages for the time being, but that was rejected by the general workers. The ongoing strike is the continuation of the previously declared movement by the tea garden workers.
The recent strike by the tea workers has brought national attention to a largely forgotten community of Bangladesh. Very little is known about their ethnic identity, culture or what they think about their lives in general. Although several studies have been carried out by various agencies including UN agencies, they have not reached the public space. It is because the public are not interested in their life and living. They care about their cup of tea but not the tea workers. This is only natural but the reason is that Bangladesh's majority population group's shushil middle class are narrow in their interest zone. They appear to less interested learning about their own citizens facing both structural and incidental discrimination. Not much will change soon but it’s important that an information stream be created to let people know about the way of life of the tea workers. Following is a brief profile of this population group which draws upon several studies including once done by the ILO. Tea plantation workers were brought to the Sylhet zone by British companies and belong to several ethnic and cultural groups. For a long while, only these workers imported from outside Bengal were working in the gardens. However, over time, a few Bengali workers from Barisal and Comilla have also been found among the tea workers. Also read: Tea garden workers continue strike in Sylhet Many of the workers originate from Orissa and they speak Deshali which has a significant Bengali mix. There are workers who speak Bhojpuri also. Some speak modified Hindi. Asomiya, Oran,Munda, Telugu and Santali speakers have also been found. All these languages and dialects have mixed together to produce a tea-garden hybrid spoken by the workers. Ethnic groups include Lohar, RobiDas, Bagdee, Bhumij, Bauri, Bahadur, Nayek, Rikiason, Shobdokar, Ashon, Naidu, Donia, Rai, Munda,Chotree, Patra, Kalindee,Kumir, Halder, Kondo, Bhumia, Orao,Santal, Mahali, Barai,Rajbhar, Pashi,Kharia, Goala,Munda, Bunargee, Nunia, Uria, Kaloar, Bhuian, Kurmi and Khasis. They are marginalized Hindu groups from different parts of eastern India as well indigenous groups. However, their ancient tradition is not practiced by most. Bangladesh Adivasi Forum also does not recognize most of the communities as "indigenous " either. Marginalization Very few of them are receiving higher education and employed outside the tea plantations. They also fear discrimination in the outside world. A college teacher, son of a tea garden worker, said that educated youth are not keen to return to plantation life. Most stay away from their tea garden origins and generally hide their identity. Given the kind of image, social status and public perception they have, this is only natural. Most of the workers are Hindus while some also practice animism. Christians and Muslims are very few but are there. Singing, dancing particularly Jhumur and lathi dance are popular during festivals. Durga Puja is the most popular cultural and religious festival. Also read: Moulvibazar tea workers resume strike defying union leaders’ decision They are considered both a lower class and caste and largely avoided by Bengalis as a community. Most workers are intimidated by Bengalis so there is no inter-mixing. Language is also a barrier. As they speak little fluent Bangla, chances of mixing is also low. Interestingly, there are some groups –indigenous - who are not tea workers but who live in the plantation area. They are now being threatened with eviction. Access to economics and social services Very few receive any form of GOB assistance (7.5%) and they are mostly excluded from any kind of government social safety programs. NGOs provide some services including credit, primary and non-formal education and sanitation etc. However, these were very inadequate. Around (56%) were members of credit groups but they were not able to say what their own savings were or what they planned to do with it. Wages + 90% of the workers are unsatisfied with their wages. 78% felt hugely overworked and 57% were unhappy with their work hours. Job security was satisfactory as it meant a lifetime employment but 60% were not happy with their workplace safety. Around 63% said that their rights were violated but few had any idea what their rights were. Both workers and trade union leaders think education is fundamental for change and believe that if their children are to have a better life, education is out. But the opportunity for education was hugely limited with almost no post primary schools in the plantations. And outside schools cost money and they have none of that. Most felt that lack of education condemned their life to servitude in the garden. One factor that kept them tied to the gardens was housing facilities so this acted as a malicious glue to the plantations even though many thought their life was one of high denial. Workers who have cultivated land that are sub-leased from the gardens are now being taken away by the owners and the government on the grounds of garden space extension or new gardens. The profile shows that this community made up of several ethnic groups were some of the most discriminated against with no bargaining power. Not only is their life crushingly difficult but there are few options on the table for them to use as an escape route. It’s a life about intergenerational condemnation to a life which was not their choice to begin and continues to be the same.
Tea garden workers in Moulvibazar resumed strike Tuesday noon disobeying the decision of the leaders of Bangladesh Tea Workers Union. Most of the workers in different upazilas joined work Monday morning upon assurance from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to settle the issue. Later, a group of workers brought out a procession abstaining from work at noon for raising their wage to Tk 300 from Tk 120. Workers said that they didn’t see or hear PM’s directive regarding wage hike on television. “The leaders are asking us to join work in the name of the Prime Minister,” said Aban Tanti of Sreemangal Kalighat tea garden. Tea workers blocked railway track in School Choumhani area in Kulaura upazila and Moulvibazar-Kulaura regional road around 4 pm today. The agitated workers stopped the Sylhet-bound ‘Paharika Express’ train, snapping the country’s rail communication with Sylhet for an hour. Later, they withdrew their blockade after an hour on request of Kulaura Upazila Administration, Municipality Mayor, Kulaura Police Station Officer-in-Charge (OC). Besides, the workers in Lachna area of Sreemangal demonstrated on Dhaka-Moulvibazar road in front of Sreemangal Labor House and in various tea gardens including Maulvi tea garden in Samsher Nagar and Kamalganj upazilas. Santan Raghav Goala, a worker of Sreemangal Khaichra tea garden, said, “Why did we go on a strike for so long if we have to return to work with the previous wage?” Dilip Bhuiya of the same garden said they will not return to work until PM’s announcement on fixing daily wage at Tk 300. Meanwhile, workers in Kulaura, Baralekha, Juri, Rajnagar Kamalganch upazila joined their work at various tea gardens and were seen working in the gardens spontaneously, said Javed Ali, assistant manager of Kulaura Gazipur tea garden. Bijay Hazra, organising secretary of tea workers union said, “We are joining work. I hope the Prime Minister will consider our demands soon.” Read:Tea workers: Chasm opens up over 3am deal signed without workers' knowledge
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. Also read: Tea workers call off strike, return to work with previous wage of Tk 120 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. Also read: Tea workers return to strike for Tk 300 wage; block Dhaka-Sylhet highway “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.”
Tea garden workers on Monday returned to work with the previous wage of Tk 120 withdrawing their strike for raising wage to Tk 300 upon assurance from the Prime Minister that their wage will be re-fixed after a virtual meeting with her. This decision was taken at a meeting of the tea workers’ leaders with the Moulvibazar Deputy Commissioner Mir Nahid Ahsan at his office on Sunday night. Paresh Kalindi, financial affairs secretary of Tea Workers Union, said, "In honour of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, we will join the work with the previous wage. The Prime Minister will talk to us through a video conference very soon to finalise the new wage.” All financial benefits including wages of 10 days ( during the strike period) will be provided by the owners, he added. During Sunday’s meeting, PM Hasina also talked to the tea workers through a video conference. The Tea Workers leaders will apply to the DC for a meeting with the Prime Minister through video conferencing before the upcoming Durga Puja. Read: Tea workers return to strike for Tk 300 wage; block Dhaka-Sylhet highway