‘A minimum wage that doesn’t ensure minimum dignity’
Bangladesh Tea Association claims that they are paying daily wage of Tk 403 in cash and in kind. They included facilities cost like house rent, healthcare cost, pension, overtime and many other costs which cannot be considered as wage according to section 45 of the Labour Law. In our calculations, workers currently get no more than Tk 200 in cash and kind.
The minimum wage board for tea workers, a government-led tripartite body, have continued the 170-year-long "tradition" of depriving workers by recommending an unfair wage structure that conflict with existing laws, said speakers at a virtual dialogue yesterday.
The minimum wage recommended for tea workers is the lowest among the country's major sectors, and woefully insufficient for maintaining a basic standard of living, they highlighted.
In Assam, a tea worker gets Tk 238 per day while Sri Lanka pays Tk 423. If they can pay higher wages and still be profitable, why can't our owners do the same?
Speakers expressed their concern over the recommendation at a dialogue titled "Tea Workers' Wage: Present structure and challenges".
The event was organised by Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD) in partnership with Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) and Bangladesh Cha Sramik Union.
In the keynote speech, Philip Gain, director of SEHD, said the tripartite body, formed after nearly five years' delay, recommended the same daily wage rates of Tk 117, Tk 118 and Tk 120 that have been provided for the past two-and a-half years.
"Bangladesh Tea Association claims that they are paying daily wage of Tk 403 in cash and in kind. They included facilities cost like house rent, healthcare, pension, overtime and many other costs which cannot be considered as wage according to section 45 of the Labour Law," said Gain.
"In our calculations, workers currently get no more than Tk 200 including wages and allowances," he added.
He said the recommendation extended the wage negotiation period between Bangladesh Tea Association and Bangladesh Cha Sramik Union to three years from two years.
"We've graduated to low middle-income status and the government is working to graduate to a middle-income country soon. Does the wage board comply with the government's aspirations and agenda?" asked Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, executive chairman of PPRC who chaired and facilitated the dialogue.
"Tea workers are living in a ghetto and are deprived of all facilities," said Dr Binayak Sen, director general of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS).
"The wage structure for tea workers is way too low considering the upper poverty line of 2016, minimum wage of other sectors like garment or leather and living wage in the country."
Professor Dr MM Akash of department of economics in Dhaka University, said, "The workers and the owners set Tk 120 daily wage for the year 2019-2020 while negotiating. Considering a 5 per cent inflation rate each year, the wage should have been increased by 15 per cent for 2022 and onwards. If this factor is taken into account, the recommended wage is lower than the previous wage."
"In India, a worker gets Tk 238 per day while Sri Lanka pays Tk 423. If they can pay higher wages and still be profitable, why can't our owners do the same?" he asked.
He further argued that the profit margins of the tea garden owners should be made public.
Uttam Kumar Das, a Supreme Court lawyer, said, "The labour law clearly stated that allowances do not constitute wages. There is no scope legally for the minimum wage board to contradict the existing labour laws of Bangladesh. There have also been multiple High Court orders which state that allowances and benefits cannot replace wages."
It is discriminatory that while all workers are granted service benefits as per section-28 of the Labour Law of 2006, tea workers were stripped of the benefit in the 2018 amendment of the law, he said.
"Besides, there is no casual leave for tea workers, which is discriminatory. Every women worker is exempted by law from working eight weeks prior to childbirth, except the women tea workers."
"The wage structure declared by the wage board is an injustice to the workers and clearly benefits the owners by not considering workers' rightful demand," said Tapan Datta, a labour leader.
Among others, Rambhajan Kairi, executive advisor of BCSU, and Nripen Paul, acting general secretary of BCSU, spoke in the dialogue.