‘Repeal draft gazette, reform wage board’
The gazette notification of minimum wage for the workers involved in tea garden sector should be repealed, demanded speakers at a consultation meeting yesterday.
They said the wage board failed to serve its purpose and urged for its reformation for the betterment of tea workers.
The consultation meeting on the newly-circulated draft gazette notification was organised by Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, Parliamentary Caucus on Indigenous Peoples and Minorities and Bangladesh Tea Labour Union.
Moderated by Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of Adivasi Forum, it was held virtually.
Speakers said for decades, tea workers have been struggling for fare wage and the government formed a minimum wage board for the sector in 2019.
After two years of its formation, the six-member wage board chaired by a senior district judge circulated the draft gazette notification on June 3. The board will also take into consideration recommendations and complaints regarding the draft over the next 14 days and then finalise it.
Board member and Bangladesh Tea Labour Union's general secretary Rambhajan Kairi refrained from signing it.
In the draft gazette, tea gardens were separated into three categories, and minimum wage for permanent workers under these categories is set at Tk 117, Tk 118 and Tk 120 per day respectively, speakers said.
In the consultation meeting, Rambhajan Kairi said, "Our demand was Tk 300 per day, which was denied by the board."
The wage board has been set as per the contracted rate between the owners and workers implemented in 2019, which expired in December last year, Kairi added.
He said the gazette also created many provisions to deprive workers. It includes setting a three-year contract between owners and workers, defining new position of trainee workers, nominating only son or daughter as successor of workers and reducing festival allowances, he said.
Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, said, "Comparing to the tea sector in all other countries, Bangladeshi workers are paid the minimum. It's even less comparing to country's other neglected sectors."
"The wage board was formed to work on upgrading living standard of tea workers but it technically reduced it. It proves that tea garden workers are living in a modern day unconstitutional slavery," he said.
Workers Party President and lawmaker Rashed Khan Menon said, "The chairman of the board, who is a judge, reduced tea garden workers' facility, which is completely unlawful and workers should legally challenge that."
"Even the gazette was circulated without the signature of a member from the defined sector, which is unacceptable. It must be repealed and the wage board must be reformed," he said.
Sohrab Hasan, joint editor of Prothom Alo, said, "After 50 years of independence, tea garden workers are not even considered as a regular human being. They've been neglected since the British period..."
"The wage board led by a judge could not ensure justice for the deprived community... This board must be reformed and logical wage for tea workers must be ensured," he said.
Prof Mesbah Kamal of the history department at Dhaka University said, "Is the wage board formed to broker for the owners of the gardens or for the betterment of tea garden workers?"
"This board is incapable, irresponsible, incompetent and biased; it must be reformed. The seasonal famine of the northern district is over, but the daily famine of tea garden workers is not," he added.