Bangladesh tea Workers get Hike of Only Tk 50 After 3 Weeks of Agitation
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Dissatisfied Bangladeshi tea workers are returning to work following the Sheikh Hasina government’s decision to increase their wages by a mere Tk 50. Despite three consecutive weeks of agitation, their wages have been increased only from Tk 120 to Tk 170.
The decision to hike the wages was taken at a meeting between Hasina and the Bangladesh Tea Association—a body of teagarden owners—at Ganabhaban on Saturday.
After the two-and-a-half meeting, the prime minister’s chief secretary Ahmed Kaykaus informed the media of the decision to increase the wages. “Besides the hike in wages, the number of annual, festival and sick leaves and bonus will also be increased. The cost of medical expenses will be borne by teagarden owners,” he said.
Besides, subsidised ration, medical benefits, pension, expenditure on education of tea workers’ children would be increased apart from providing free housing.
Kaykaus said that Hasina asked the workers to return to work. “The prime minister spoke on behalf of tea workers by increasing their wages and asked them to join work immediately. She will talk to tea workers through video conference soon,” he said.
The meagre increase in wages has drawn mixed reactions from workers with most of them angry and dissatisfied despite the announcement of teagarden owners and the union to accept the decision.
The Bangladesh Tea Workers Union has welcomed the decision. Nripen Pal, acting general secretary, central committee of the union, told People’s Reporter, “We accept the decision. She is the country’s prime minister. Thank you, prime minister. Our workers will join work.”
However, several workers in Sylhet, Moulvibazar and Habiganj districts said that though they have resumed work, Tk 170 is extremely low to meet daily expenses.
“We cannot speak for ourselves,” a worker at Sylhet’s Lakkatura tea plantation said requesting anonymity. “That is what panchayat heads and union leaders say. We accepted slavery. How will Tk 170 help when prices of essential commodities are so high?”
From the beginning of the protest, union leaders were accused of working on behalf of owners. Former vice-president of University Tea Students Union Micah Piregu told People’s Reporter, “The movement of tea workers was suppressed by increasing wages by only Tk 50. It is a joke.”
“The leadership of the Tea Workers Union comprises members of the ruling party. The union has become a sister organisation of the Awami League,” Piregu alleged.
A tea worker from Moulvibazar requesting anonymity alleged, “Most tea union and panchayat leaders are involved in corruption. All of them are involved with the Awami League and its various organisations at the local level. They are too powerful for the workers to protest their decision.”
People’s Reporter found the allegations to be true. Pal is the Awami Leagues’ organising secretary of Chunarughat subdivision, in Habiganj district. Former general secretary of the organisation’s central committee and current executive adviser Ram Bhajan Kairi is the vice-president of the Moulvibazar District Labour League. Current central organizing secretary Vijay Hazrao has contested Union Parishad elections and is involved with the ruling party.
Pal admitted that several people in charge of the tea workers union are “involved in local politics” but he denied the allegations that they are working on behalf of owners or the government. “It is the Opposition’s propaganda. We don’t do that.”
Several tea workers said that the term of union’s committee has expired and a new one will be formed soon. People’s Reporter found that the committee’s term expired on June 21, 2021.
More than 1.5 lakh workers are employed with around 250 registered and unregistered tea plantations in Bangladesh spread on 2,79,506.88 acres in the seven districts of Moulvibazar, Habiganj, Sylhet, Chittagong, Rangamati, Panchagarh and Thakurgaon.
The agitation started with a two-hour strike on August 9. When wages were not increased, tea workers across the country declared an indefinite strike on August 13 and blocked roads, highways and railway tracks.
On August 20, the union held a meeting with government representatives where wages were fixed at Tk 145. Workers rejected the decision and continued their agitation demanding wages of Rs 300.
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