Bangladesh is one of the world’s largest tea producers. Its fragrant tea leaves delight tea lovers in 20 countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. The country’s tea industry is valued at about US$368,000 and contributes about 1 percent to the GDP, according to the United News of Bangladesh
Built on the backs of nearly 150,000 tea garden workers, the industry employs workers who are mostly female, do back-breaking work, and are among the lowest paid in the country.
Thousands of tea workers have been protesting
since Aug. 9 to demand a rise in daily wage by 150 percent. They face stiff resistance from plantation owners who have systematically exploited
them for decades.
In Bangladesh, the minimum daily wage ranges from 300 taka (US$3) to 800 taka (US$8), depending on the worker’s location and occupation, reports Newsclick
. Tea workers only earn a daily wage of 120 taka (US$1.26).
And they receive that wage “only when they can collect a minimum of 24 kilograms of leaves,” reports Bdnews24.Com
. That’s the weight of 7,680 tea bags. If the workers don’t meet their quota, they get paid less.
Amid rising inflation and high food prices, the 120 taka the workers receive can barely buy them two kilograms of rice. “How will we survive?” Sangkor Kairi, a worker at Luhaiuni Tea Garden in the Moulvibazar district, told UCA News
. “We are still working on this wage like slaves. But now our backs are against the wall, we are demanding a daily wage of at least 300 taka.”
The workers are like modern-day slaves, said Philip Gain, director of the Society for Environment and Human Development research group, who has written books on tea workers, in an Al Jazeera
report. “The plantation owners have hijacked the minimum wage authorities and kept the wages some of the lowest in the world.”
It’s no wonder then that about 74 percent of tea workers live in poverty, according to a 2018 study by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. The rate is much higher than the national poverty rate of 21.8 reported by the bureau in the same year, reports UCA News.