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Bangladeshi tea workers angry over new terms

Workers' union opposes the Minimum Wage Board's policies on wages, contracts and apprenticeships

Bangladeshi tea workers angry over new terms

Tea workers' leaders are unhappy with new terms of employment. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)

Bangladeshi tea workers are unhappy with a new policy covering minimum wages, apprenticeships and the extension of contracts.

After more than 11 years, the Minimum Wage Board has published recommendations for workers in the form of a gazette. 

Depending on the classification of the tea estate, the daily salary of tea workers will be set at 117-120 taka (US$1.41), well below the 300 taka demanded by the workers' union.

“There were no apprentices before but now the younger generations have to work as apprentices,” said Ramnath Tanti, 53, who works at Malnicherra tea estate in Sylhet, which was set up during the British Raj era.

“In my family of eight I work alone in the garden. It is our sorrow that the tea estate owners are benefiting in return for our work. The government leases the land but it is not providing us with our minimum standard of living.” 

Tea workers' leaders say that although there is a rule to increase wages every two years, in many cases wages have decreased under the draft gazette.

Our various estate-based committees have voiced protests and we will send our protests to the Minimum Wage Board soon

On behalf of the workers, the Bangladesh Tea Workers' Union has stated that it will refrain from signing the gazette. They have demanded 300 taka per day instead of 120 taka. Two annual bonuses equal to two months' salary must also be paid.

“From generation to generation, we do plantation work. The children will take the job, then why the apprentices? We renew our contract every two years but the gazette has stipulated three years. Maternity leave has been set at four months when it should be six months. All of these serve the interests of the tea estate owners,” Pankoj Kondo, vice-president of the Bangladesh Tea Labor Union, told UCA News.

“The gazette was not signed on our behalf. Our various estate-based committees have voiced protests and we will send our protests to the Minimum Wage Board soon to rectify it.” 

G.M Shiblee, chairman of the Sylhet branch of the Bangladesh Tea Association, said that even though the daily wages of workers are low, other benefits such as accommodation, rations and health care are provided by tea estate owners.

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“We have published this gazette with the consent of all parties including labor representatives. If there are any objections, then the matter will be considered if the application is made within the specified period,” said Raisha Afroz, secretary of the Minimum Wage Board.

Father Nicholas Baroi, convenor of the Justice and Peace Commission in Syhlet, told UCA News that the Church is working for the welfare of tea workers.

“This gazette should be amended and an acceptable gazette should be published which protects the interests of all parties and we should act accordingly. There is no benefit in doing what is in the paper but not in reality,” he added.

Bangladesh has about 100,000 registered workers and 30,000 temporary workers on 167 tea estates, according to state-run Bangladesh Tea Board. The entire tea worker community is estimated to be around half a million.

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