As many as 536 workers of Kaliti Tea Estate in Kulaura upazila of Moulvibazar are in dire straits as they have not been paid wages for a stretch of 10 weeks.
Workers said the Kaliti Tea Company took the garden on lease from the government. All 536 workers are to be paid a daily wage of Tk 102 every Thursday. But this has not been happening for the last 10 weeks. Labour leaders of the tea garden have not got their salaries for nine months.
“The workers get a very small wage. But there are not getting even that for 10 weeks despite working. They are almost starving. The garden authorities are just dilly dallying,” said the garden workers panchayat committee secretary Uttam Kalwar.
He also said that many problems have been persisting in the garden for long. The workers are yet to get the arrears of their previous wages. Many of the workers live in in dilapidated mud houses. The authorities are not taking steps to renovate them. The workers who retired are not receiving their post-retirement benefits from the workers provident fund. But the authorities cut 7.5 per cent of every workers’ wage to the contribute to the provident fund. The owners are supposed to contribute another 7.5 per cent for the fund but they are not doing this.
Uttam Kalwar further said there are no physicians at the tea garden. The garden authorities do not pay the bills if the workers go outside for medical treatment.
He said they filed a written complaint to the deputy director of Sreemangal office of the labour department on 5 January seeking a resolution to all those problems.
Speaking to Prothom Alo over phone, Kaliti Tea Estate manager Pranab Kanti Deb on Thursday said, the problem was created as the company could not give the money on time. The workers will be paid five weeks wages on 6 April. The other problems will also be resolved gradually.
He also said 14 employees of the tea estate have not got their salaries for nine months.
Labour department deputy director Md. Nahidul Islam said, “The Kaliti Tea Estate is in a very bad shape. Around five million taka of the workers’ provident fund has not been deposited. The managing director and the manager of the estate were asked more than once to pay the workers’ arrears and provident fund’s money soon. The wages are yet to be paid.”
He said he will look into the matter.
Bangladesh produced 96.69 million kg of tea in 2019, a record production in the region in 166 years. According to the tea board, commercial production of tea was initiated in the area in 1854 when the Malnichhara tea garden was established.
Tea plantation areas are increasing at Panchagarh, Lalmonirhat, Thakurgaon, Dinajpur and Bandarban. Cultivation has also been restarted in the abandoned tea gardens. The tea garden owners have increased investment too as they are receiving good prices. Technology has also increased.
The tea board has a target of 140 million kg tea production by the year 2025. Last year, production was over 21 million kg higher than the target of 74 million kg. This was grown in 167 tea gardens by 1,500 small-scale farmers in Sylhet, Chattogram, North Bengal and the Hill Tract areas.
But the labourers who work at tea gardens are more often than not in dire straits.