- On 13 June, Minimum Wage Board recommended Tk117-Tk120 daily wage for tea workers
- Tea workers have been receiving Tk117-Tk120 as daily wage since January 2019
- Tea workers demanded Tk300 and two annual bonuses
- Although Wage Board recommended 5% annual wage increase for other sectors, it has not been recommended for tea workers
- The minimum wage recommended for tea workers is the lowest among 43 industrial sectors
Even though the tea industry in the country is 167 years old, the daily wage of labourers at the country's tea gardens is not even Tk167 at present.
After 11 long years, the Minimum Wage Board has finalised the draft of a wage recommendation for tea workers, fixing Tk117-Tk120 as daily wage.
But tea workers and their organisations have categorically rejected the recommendation.
Demanding the cancellation of the draft recommendation, leaders of the Bangladesh Tea Workers' Union said tea workers have been receiving Tk117-Tk120 as daily wage since January 2019. The Minimum Wage Board released the draft minimum wage recommendation for tea workers on 13 June this year. Fixing the same amount of daily wage after two and a half years is ridiculous and unacceptable.
It is learnt that on 13 October 2020, the Tea Workers Union (TWU) signed an agreement with the Bangladesh Tea Association (BTA), an organisation of tea garden owners, fixing Tk117-Tk120 as the daily wage for tea garden workers. Under the agreement, tea workers have been receiving Tk117-Tk120 as daily wage since January 2019.
Tea labourers said six months after the expiry of the contract, the minimum wage board has recommended the same amount, whereas they expected a daily wage of Tk300, along with two annual bonuses equivalent to two months' salary.
Earlier in 2010, it is learnt, the wage board fixed the daily wage for tea workers at Tk48. Since then, following the agreements signed between BTA and TWU every two years, the wage has gone up from Tk48 to Tk117-Tk120 in the last 11 years.
TWU convener Rajdeo Kairi told The Business Standard, "We are rejecting this draft. No modern state can offer such low wages. It is unfortunate that the daily wage of tea labourers is not even Tk167, although the industry is 167 years old."
"We should not forget that due to the tireless work of tea labourers, Bangladesh has risen to ninth place in the world in tea production. Not only that, workers in various industries of the country are on leave during the corona pandemic, but tea workers are still active in production despite the risk of being infected," he added.
Geeta Rani Kanu, president of the Bangladesh Tea Workers Women's Forum, said although the Minimum Wage Board has recommended an annual 5% minimum wage increase for workers in various sectors, it did not recommend such an increase for tea sector workers.
She said that due to the absence of an increment system in the tea sector, the wages of an experienced tea labourer working year after year and those of a new tea labourer are the same.
Rajat Biswas, general secretary of the Bangladesh Trade Union's Moulvibazar unit, said the recommended minimum wage of tea workers is the lowest among the wages of 43 industrial sectors recommended by the wage board.
Commenting on the low wages of tea workers, GM Shibli, chairman of the BTA's Sylhet unit, said that even though the daily wages of tea workers are low, tea garden owners provide them with accommodation, rations and medical treatment which are separate from the daily wages of workers.
"If all the facilities are taken into account, their monthly salary is around Tk12,000 to Tk14,000," he claimed.
Rambhajan Kairi, general secretary of the central committee of the Bangladesh Tea Workers' Union, said, "I am also a member of the wage board. At the board meeting, I protested against the recommendations which were against the interest of tea workers, but my protest was not taken into account. I did not even sign the draft of the recommendation."
Observing that the workers are living in hardship with a Tk120 daily wage, he said, "We demand the formulation of new recommendations on humanitarian grounds and their submission to the government."
Raisha Afroz, Secretary, Minimum Wage Board Secretary, said there are 14 days in hand to amend the draft gazette. Any complaints, opinions or suggestions regarding the draft can be formally communicated to the wage board during this period. "I will present the objections, if any, at the next board meeting on 27 June," she promised.
It may be mentioned that tea cultivation in Malnichhara Tea Garden of Sylhet started in 1854 during the period of British rule in the subcontinent. At present, according to the Bangladesh Tea Development Board, there are 167 tea gardens in the country. According to the Tea Workers Union, 1,17,000 thousand registered and about 25,000 unregistered workers work in these gardens.