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Moulvibazar tea workers resume strike defying union leaders’ decision

Tea garden workers in Moulvibazar resumed strike Tuesday noon disobeying the decision of the leaders of Bangladesh Tea Workers Union.

Most of the workers in different upazilas joined work Monday morning upon assurance from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to settle the issue. Later, a group of workers brought out a procession abstaining from work at noon for raising their wage to Tk 300 from Tk 120, UNB reports.

Workers said that they didn’t see or hear PM’s directive regarding wage hike on television.  “The leaders are asking us to join work in the name of the Prime Minister,” said Aban Tanti of Sreemangal Kalighat tea garden.

Tea workers blocked railway track in School Choumhani area in Kulaura upazila and Moulvibazar-Kulaura regional road around 4 pm today.

The agitated workers stopped the Sylhet-bound ‘Paharika Express’ train, snapping the country’s rail communication with Sylhet for an hour.

Later, they withdrew their blockade after an hour on request of Kulaura Upazila Administration, Municipality Mayor, Kulaura Police Station Officer-in-Charge (OC).

Besides, the workers in Lachna area of Sreemangal demonstrated on Dhaka-Moulvibazar road in front of Sreemangal Labor House and in various tea gardens including Maulvi tea garden in Samsher Nagar and Kamalganj upazilas.

Santan Raghav Goala, a worker of Sreemangal Khaichra tea garden, said, “Why did we go on a strike for so long if we have to return to work with the previous wage?”

Dilip Bhuiya of the same garden said they will not return to work until PM’s announcement on fixing daily wage at Tk 300.

Meanwhile, workers in Kulaura, Baralekha, Juri, Rajnagar Kamalganch upazila joined their work at various tea gardens and were seen working in the gardens spontaneously, said Javed Ali, assistant manager of Kulaura Gazipur tea garden.

Bijay Hazra, organising secretary of tea workers union said, “We are joining work. I hope the Prime Minister will consider our demands soon.”

On Sunday night, an emergency meeting was held between the tea worker leaders and Moulvibazar district administration, apparently on the instructions from the Prime Minister to resolve the current situation.

After the meeting led by Moulvibazar Deputy Commissioner Mir Nahid Hasan, a joint statement signed by both parties on five conditions was issued.

According to the written statement, Bangladesh Tea Workers Union reg No-B 77 would “withdraw their strike and join work from Monday, keeping faith and trust on the prime minister”.

Regarding the wage, it mentioned the workers will resume work at the current daily wage of Tk 120 for the time being.

The union leaders claimed they appealed for holding a video conference with the prime minister before the Durga Puja celebration this year to present their demands through the district administration.

Other demands of tea workers will be submitted in written form to the Deputy Commissioner which will be sent to the Prime Minister’s office for consideration.

However, on Monday morning when two leaders went to call the workers of Kalighat tea garden in Sreemangal upazila for suspending the strike and returning to work, a group of general workers got agitated over the decision of the union leaders.

On August 9, the Bangladesh Tea Workers Union started two-hour work abstention a day demanding daily wage hike.

Workers demanded an increase of their wage to Tk300, with inflation rising and the currency depreciating. The workers of 241 tea gardens across the country went on a full-scale strike on Aug 13, after four days of two-hour work abstention.

Bangladesh is producing a record amount of tea every year through the toil of the tea workers. In 2021, a record 96 million kilograms of tea was produced in the country thanks to the hard labour of the underpaid tea workers.

Although two agreements on increasing wages were signed, the fate of more than 1.5 lakh tea workers in the country hasn’t changed a bit.