Bangladesh: 150,000 striking tea workers demand a pay raise
The average wage of a tea worker in Bangladesh is about 120 taka a day ($1.25), which is among the lowest wage in the world, according to researchers.
About 150,000 workers from more than 200 tea plantations in Bangladesh went on strike Saturday, demanding a 150% increase in their wages of one dollar a day, one of the lowest in the world according to researchers.
Most tea workers in the overwhelmingly Muslim country are low-caste Hindus, the descendants of laborers brought to the plantations by colonial-era British planters.
A worker explained that this was barely enough to buy food, let alone other basic necessities. "Today, we can't even afford brown rice for our family with this amount," said Anjana Bhuyian, 50. "A wage of one day can't buy a liter of edible oil. How can we then even think about our nutrition, medication, or children's education?" she told AFP.
Unions are demanding an increase to 300 takas a day, with inflation rising and the currency depreciating and said that workers in the country's 232 tea gardens began a full-scale strike on Saturday, after four days of two-hour stoppages.
"Nearly 150,000 tea workers have joined the strike today," said Sitaram Bin, a committee member of the Bangladesh Tea Workers' Union. "No tea worker will pluck tea leaves or work in the leaf processing plants as long as the authority doesn't pay heed to our demands," he told AFP.
Researchers say tea workers -- who live in some of the country's most remote areas -- have been systematically exploited by the industry for decades.
"Tea workers are like modern-day slaves," said Philip Gain, director of the Society for Environment and Human Development, a research group, that has written books on tea workers. "The plantation owners have hijacked the minimum wage authorities and kept the wages some of the lowest in the world."
Figuring among the poorest nations in the world, Bangladesh has for long been seen as a free-for-all for international capital. The ruling gangsters do not care for the lives and working conditions of ordinary people.
The result is a long list of tragedies in Bangladesh’s recent history, in which the lives of workers were carelessly put at risk.
The Dhaka Tribute reported in 2022 that no less than 2,000 workers have died in 26 fires over the last 20 years.
Only last year, Bangladeshi child laborers were burned alive in a factory fire.
More than 1,100 garment workers were killed in the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse – the deadliest industrial accident in Bangladesh’s history – and they still have not been given proper justice.
Read more: Poverty and Pandemic Devour Bangladesh