Tea garden workers’ strike not called off: Leaders

Tea workers observe a two-hour long strike to press home several demands, including the increase of daily wage. The picture was taken from Lakkatura in Sylhet on 10 August.Anis Mahmud

Tea garden workers on Saturday night claimed that they postponed their indefinite strike demanding the wage hike for Tk 300 from Tk 120 until they meet with prime minister Sheikh Hasina after she returns to the country from India, reports UNB.

“We didn’t call off the strike, rather we stayed it showing respect to the prime minister as we will hold a meeting with her when she comes back from India,” said Raju Goyala, president of Tea Workers Unit of Sylhet Valley after a meeting with Sylhet deputy commissioner (DC) Md Mojibur Rahman on Saturday night.

The DC held the meeting with tea workers’ union leaders after a disparity over the continuation and postponement of the strike among the workers and their leaders.

Raju Goyala said that they are hopeful of an acceptable decision after holding a meeting with the prime minister.

He said workers of 23 tea gardens under Sylhet valley agreed to join their works from Sunday following the meeting with the DC. However he could not provide any information about the other gardens in the country.

Reiterating Goyala, DC Mojibur Rahman also confirmed that the workers will join the works from Sunday.

The general tea garden workers rejected the Tk 25 daily wage hike fixed by the government on Saturday and vowed to continue their movement for a Tk 300 daily wage.

Around 8pm, the workers blocked the Choumuhona Chattar area at Sreemangal on the road connecting Moulvibazar with Dhaka-Sylhet and staged a rally and demonstrated against the decision to withdraw the strike.

Many of them refused to go back to work, defying the announcement to call off the strike that came earlier from the Tea Workers Union leaders.

Earlier on Saturday afternoon, after a meeting with the labour department, tea workers’ union leaders had withdrawn their indefinite strike after assurance of raising their wages to Tk 145 from Tk 120.

After the meeting at divisional labour department office at Sreemangal in Moulvibazar district on Saturday, Nipen Paul, General Secretary of Tea Workers Union, said they had withdrawn the strike after getting assurance from the prime minister.

“Our wages will be raised by Tk 25 and the prime minister has assured us that she will hold a meeting after her visit to India. In that meeting we will inform her about our demands. From Sunday all workers will resume their work in their respective gardens,” he said.

However, he later said he never signed any agreement.

The general tea garden workers opposed the announcement immediately and demonstrated in front of the Sreemangal labour department office for raising their wage to Tk 300.

Md Abdus Shahid, a member of parliament from Moulvibazar-4 constituency who was present in the meeting said, “I have come here today as per the PM’s instruction. The prime minister has ordered to raise the wage by Tk 25 against the tea garden owners’ proposal of Tk 20 and she will hold a meeting with the workers after returning from India.”

The deputy commissioners of Sylhet and Habiganj districts will sit in meetings with the workers’ union leaders of their respective districts Saturday afternoon.

On 9 August, the Bangladesh Tea Workers Union started two-hour work abstention a day demanding daily wage hike.

Workers demanded an increase of their wage to Tk 300, with inflation rising and the currency depreciating. The workers of 241 tea gardens across the country went on a full-scale strike on 13 August, after four days of two-hour work abstention.

Bangladesh is producing a record amount of tea every year through the toil of the tea workers. In 2021, a record 96 million kilograms of tea was produced in the country thanks to the hard labour of the underpaid tea workers.

Although two agreements on increasing wages were signed, the fate of more than 1.5 lakh tea workers in the country hasn’t changed a bit.