Thousands of tea plantation workers have obstructed the Habiganj highway after a meeting between their leaders and the labour department delivered no definite decisions amid the ongoing protests over wages.
Workers from Surma and Teliapara tea estates in Madhabpur Upazila barricaded the highway’s Jagadishpur Muktijoddha Chattar for 45 minutes from 2pm on Thursday.
The blockade, which was held amid the workers’ strike demanding an increase in daily wages from Tk 120 to Tk 300, held up hundreds of vehicles in long queues on either side of the highway.
Madhabpur Upazila Nirbahi Officer Sheikh Moinul Islam Moin and SP Mohsin Al Murad of police’s Chunarughat Madhabpur Circle went to the scene and assured the workers of taking their demand to the prime minister and managed to lift the blockade.
The Tea Workers Union and the Directorate of Labour held a meeting on Tuesday over raising the daily wage of the workers but it was not fruitful, prompting the labourers to press on with the strike.
Teliapara tea garden Panchayat Committee President Khokan Tati said: “We, the tea workers, have been neglected for a long time. It has become difficult to run our families with the wages we receive.”
“There are no provisions to get our children higher education under the current system. The rising commodity prices have has been a threat to our lives. So the demand to raise our wages is only fair.”
Laskarpur Tea Valley President Ravindra Gaur said the workers at Surma and Teliapara observed the strike from their respective tea gardens in the morning. At one point, they moved to Jagadishpur point to block the highway on their own.
“The highway blockade was lifted on the assurance of the authorities but our movement will continue unless our demand is fulfilled,” he said.
Nripen Pal, acting general secretary of the Tea Workers Union, said they sat with the director general of the labour department and the Tea Association on Wednesday, but nothing was resolved there either.
The owners proposed a hike in the daily wage to Tk 140, a Tk 20 rise, but the workers rejected it.
A meeting is held between the Bangladesh Tea Workers Union and the Bangladeshi Tea Parliament every two years to discuss the wages. An agreement is signed after a consensus is reached. The workers then receive salaries and other benefits for the next two years according to the agreement.
The last two-year contract with the tea workers expired in December 2020. Afterwards, in a 20-point demand, the Tea Workers Union asked the Bangladeshi Tea Parliament for a daily wage of Tk 300 on Jan 19, 2021. So far, 13 meetings have been held between the two parties over the matter. But the labour leaders complained that their demands have not been implemented.
They said on Aug 3, the owners of the tea estates were given a one-week ultimatum to increase the wages of the workers. But they paid no heed to it.
In protest, the workers observed a two-hour strike in tea gardens across the country from Aug 9. After the owners still refused to accept their demands, the workers went on an indefinite strike.