No holidays for tea labourers

Tea gardens at risk of coronavirus spread, suspension of work demanded

Published : 30 Mar 2020 10:01 PM | Updated : 07 Sep 2020 09:55 AM

Although the government is enforcing a 10-day nationwide shutdown after positive cases of Covid-19 were found in the country, the production has not been suspended in the tea gardens till now.

There are about 163 tea gardens across the country and about five lakh people living and working there. The tea garden labourers are working with high risk during the ongoing spread of coronavirus as they often come in close contacts.

It was alleged that neither the government nor the tea companies have taken proper steps to save the labourers from coronavirus infection. Pankaj Kondo, vice president of Bangladesh Cha Sramik Union, said that the people in the tea gardens are facing the risk of coronavirus infection. “The authorities are yet to take decision. We demand suspension of work at all tea gardens,” he said. 

The government declared general holidays from March 26 to April 4 aiming to prevent the transmission of coronavirus, but yet to announce any financial support for daily wage labourers, especially those employed in the tea gardens. The authorities concerned did not announce holidays for the tea garden labourers. 

The labourers have been demanding suspension of their work for the last several. But the authorities concerned did not pay any heed to the demand till Monday (March 30). In this backdrop, at least 20,000 workers of different tea gardens in Sylhet region went on work abstention on Monday morning.

Razu Goala, president of Sylhet unit of Bangladesh Tea Workers Union, said that getting no response from the authorities concerned, the labourers of 27 tea gardens in Sylhet went on work abstention fearing outbreak of the virus in the tea gardens. “We hope that the authorities concerned will provide the workers’ wages and ration during this period,” he said.

He mentioned the example of neighbouring country as the authorities in India’s Assam, bordering Sylhet region, have imposed lockdown at 850 tea gardens there from March 24 to March 31 to prevent coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, workers of tea gardens in some other parts of the country stopped their work from Friday, while some others Saturday. It was known that there is no sanitiser, no soap, no clean water where tea leaves are plucked. The tea garden labourers work in groups. They have not been provided with any preventive equipment like facemask.

The tea garden labourers are in high risk of coronavirus as they stay together for much of the time in the afternoon when they take their lunch with tea leaves.  Labourers of some tea gardens, including Shamshernagar Tea Garden, talked to the authorities concerned for holidays. But they did not get positive response.  

“We have to respond to the call of nature in the open as there is no latrine nearby. Afterwards, we have to use water from the dirty canals running through the tea garden,” said a woman tea labourer of Kalighat tea garden in Sreemangal upazila in Moulvibazar.

She also said, “Our houses are close together. A large number of tea workers bathe in the same river.” It was known that the Moulvibazar district administration has instructed the tea garden authorities to take necessary measures to keep tea workers safe from the risk of coronavirus infection.

Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Moulvibazar Nazia Shirin said that legal action would be taken if the instructions regarding coronavirus prevention is violated by anybody.