Tea workers are underpaid, deprived and discriminated: Labour law should be amended

News | 20 December 2019
Participants at the dialogue
Minority leaders and human rights campaigners demanded amendments to the existing labour law as it reinforces bonded labour among tea workers.

The Labour Act, 2006 contained provisions barring the workers from speaking against the past injustice, they said at a national dialogue on ‘rights of tea workers and indigenous people’- organized by Indigenous Peoples Development Services (IPDS) on 20 December 2019.

National Human Rights Commission member Kamal Uddin Ahmed, lawmaker Aroma Dutt, Dhaka University teacher Rahamat Ullah, Joyenshahi Adivasi Unnayan Sangathan president Eugin Nokrek and International Labour Organisation’s national project coordinator Alexius Chicham also participated in the dialogue.

‘We are in bonded labour. We have no choice,’ Bangladesh Cha Shramik Union general secretary Ranbhajan Koiri said at the event. The owners could sack the workers any time without reasons under the existing law, he added.

He said that upon getting sacked, a worker was given just a week to leave their residence at the garden. ‘How is it possible to find another place to live within a week?’ he asked.
Tea workers have been living in tea gardens for generations since they were brought there over a century and half ago and the gardens were their only homes, said the speakers.

Dhaka University teacher Zobaida Nasreen, while presenting the keynote paper, said that a male worker got Tk 102 every day for trimming 250 tea plants and spraying pesticide on tea plants over an acre of land.

She said that a female worker had to pick 23kg of tea leaves in a day for Tk 102. Even during the pregnancy period, they are bound to do heavy work, she said, adding that there is a lack of sanitation facility at the area, and there is no women supervisor to look after these issues.

In 2009, the government set the minimum wage of tea workers to Tk 48. The wage was increased twice and in 2016, it became Tk 102.

The workers demand a minimum wage of Tk 300 per day but their employers has proposed to increase the wage from Tk 102 to Tk 105 which is way below $ 1.9 or about Tk 161, the global absolute minimum for a day–set by the World Bank in 2015–to live above the poverty line.

The government formed a wage board in October 2019 to reset the minimum wage for tea workers within six months.

Transparency International, Bangladesh executive director Iftekharuzzaman said that the tea workers’ minimum wage of Tk 5,231 was the lowest in the country.

He said that the garment workers’ minimum wage was Tk 8,000 which was Tk 2769 more than that of the tea workers.

Iftekharuzzaman said that the tea industry that survived more than 150 years would collapse unless the labour force survived.