A month-long strike for arrears, better life
Around 360 tea workers and their families of Imam and Bawani tea gardens in Habiganj's Nabiganj upazila have observed a strike for a month to press home their seven-point demand that include receiving due wages and better living conditions.
The tea workers have long been holding various programmes demanding rations, unpaid wages, bonuses and festival allowances, arrears of provident fund, medical care, and permanent accommodation, but to no avail.
Although tea garden owners repeatedly assured them of meeting their demands, they have yet to come up with any visible steps to this end, tea workers alleged, adding that they no longer have faith in mere words of affirmation.
Talking to this correspondent, the workers claimed the owners are not paying their dues, violating the labour contract signed between the Bangladesh Tea Association and the Bangladesh Tea Workers' Union.
On June 25, the tea workers wrote to the chairman and managing director of Imam Tea Estate Ltd to realise their demands. However, as the owners did not take the complaints into consideration, the tea workers went on strike from July 3 to July 11.
Rambhajan Rabidas, president of Imam Tea Garden Panchayet Committee, said the owners of Imam and Bawani tea gardens owe Tk 81.59 lakh in outstanding wages and Tk 14.47 lakh in bonuses, which was to be paid to 360 workers in the financial years 2019-20 and 2021-22.
Besides, retired workers are also not getting their matured provident fund.
Also, the tea workers have long been suffering due to poor accommodation and are also being deprived of medical services due to a lack of doctors at the gardens.
Under these circumstances, the tea workers resorted to continuous strikes from July 21 to August 22, demanding effective initiatives from the owners to solve their crises, Rambhajan added.
Nirpen Paul, acting general secretary of Bangladesh Tea Workers' Union, said the owners of Imam and Bawani tea plantations are discriminating against the workers.
"On August 21, we organised a large programme at several gardens. Later, the district administration asked the owners for a sit-down with them to meet the workers' demands on August 22. That is why we've temporarily suspended our programme."
Contacted, Fakhrul Islam, general manager of Imam and Bawani tea gardens, said the owners had faced various financial problems in the management of the tea gardens.
"Prompt payment of dues will be made in consultation with the leaders of the tea workers' union," he added.
Speaking on the matter, Nabiganj Upazila Assistant Commissioner (Land) Shaheen Delwar said the garden owners also owe land development tax of Tk 80 lakh to the government, and a recommendation has been made for cancellation of their lease for the plantations.
Additional Deputy Commissioner (Revenue) Rafiqul Islam said, "The owners have been asked to present the necessary documents to the district administration during the meeting on August 22 to solve the crisis of Imam and Bawani tea gardens. Appropriate initiatives will also be taken to resolve workers' crises in that meeting."