DHAKA: Nearly 150,000 workers at more than 200 Bangladeshi tea plantations went on strike on Saturday to demand a 150 percent rise to their dollar-a-day wages, which researchers say are among the lowest in the world.

Most tea workers are low-caste Hindus, the descendants of labourers brought to the plantations by colonial-era British planters.

The minimum wage for a tea plantation worker in the country is 120 taka a day — about $1.25 at official rates, but only just over a dollar on the free market. One worker said that was barely enough to buy food, let alone other necessities.

“Nowadays we can’t even afford coarse rice for our family with this amount,” said Anjana Bhuyian, 50. “A wage of one day can’t buy a litre of edible oil. How can we then even think about our nutrition, medication, or children’s education?” she said.

Unions are demanding an increase to 300 taka 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 said.

Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2022

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