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Bangladesh tea worker strike ends

Anger at political interference remains

Bangladesh tea worker strike ends

A tea picker carries a bag of leaves through a plantation reporter, Sylhet

May 24, 2013

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Tea plantation owners in Bangladesh have agreed to meet most demands set this week by nearly 100,000 strikers. Workers at seven tea estates in Sylhet have continued to strike, while the majority of the rest returned to work. Many however are still disgruntled at what they claim is ongoing political influence over trade union activities over the past two years.

The strike had affected nearly 150 tea estates in the country’s north, where workers are paid US$0.70 a day, among the lowest wages in the world. The government agreed to withdraw all cases filed against labor leaders within two weeks, but said it would hold discussions over a salary increase.

“Political intervention has had a negative impact on tea workers and deprived them for years,” said Porimol Baraik, a labor leader. Those in Sylhet remained despondent about the outcome of negotiations.

Some workers harbor suspicions about the political motives of the labor leaders. “It seems that the strike was a ‘drama’ staged by lthe abor leaders to get hold of power and use it for their own interest ahead of national elections,” said Sadik Hossain, a worker from the Kalagool tea estate in Sylhet.

A labor activist who does not want to be named said that tea workers are caught between the muscle power of plantation owners and labor groups.

“Both the owners and labor groups have immense influence over tea workers,” he said. “They strike with the hope of better wages and living conditions, but can’t continue for long, fearing owners would punish them by cutting their pay and weekly rationing.”

Tea workers are discouraged from taking up education and vocational training, and remain among the most marginalized groups in Bangladesh.

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