Tea garden owners claim over one crore kilogram of raw tea leaves have been ruined since workers resumed a countrywide indefinite strike on Tuesday, demanding better pay.
The tea garden authorities have filed a number of general diaries (GDs) with Sreemangal police station reporting huge losses as workers are abstaining from work despite this month being the peak harvest season.
Garden owners, citing information provided by the Bangladesh Tea Association, said tea leaves worth over Tk20 crores are wasted every day in the 168 tea gardens located in Sylhet and Chattogram due to the workers' protest.
The labourers, who get paid Tk120 a day, said the work abstention will go on at tea gardens across the country until their daily wage increases to Tk300.
Humayun Kabir, officer in charge of Sreemangal police station, said, "We have registered several GDs since yesterday (16 August) for the wastage of raw tea leaves. We will visit each garden to confirm the issue."
Tahsin Ahmed Chaudhury, chief operating officer of Finlay Tea Company, said tea leaves worth around Tk35 crore were ruined in their gardens.
Golam Mohammad Shibli, general manager of Finlay Tea Company and chairman of Bangladeshi Tea Sangsad in Sylhet, said, "Workers were in discussions with owners regarding a wage increase. It is illegal to stop working in the middle of a discussion."
"We have requested the government to take measures so that the workers return to work," he added.
Khalid Hasan Rumi, assistant manager of Deanston Tea Estate in Moulvibazar, filed a GD with Sreemangal police station on Tuesday night, in which he claimed it was not possible to process over 99,000 kg of raw tea leaves worth around Tk50 lakh due to the workers' strike.
Mainul Ehsan, manager of Rajghat Tea Estate, said, "We lost around 1.53 lakh kg of raw tea leaves because of the strike. I have filed a GD with Sreemangal police station regarding the matter."
Tarek Ahmad Chowdhury, Jangal Bari Tea Estate manager, said around 35,000 kg of raw tea leaves got ruined in the past few days as they did not have any workers for processing and packaging.
Raju Goala, president of the Tea Workers' Union in Sylhet valley, said, "We placed a demand to increase our daily wage from Tk120 to Tk300 earlier. We started demonstrating on 8 August as the authorities did not pay any heed to our demand.
"Then, on Thursday, the Department of Labour in the division hosted a meeting between the owners and the workers' leaders to resolve the issue.
"We attended the meeting but no owner representative joined it. This forced us to start a work abstention from Saturday."
The workers relaxed their protest programme for two days due to the National Day of Mourning, and resumed it again from Tuesday.