Bangladesh Tea Workers Union called an indefinite strike in all the tea gardens of the country on Saturday demanding a pay hike for tea garden workers.
Paresh Kalindi, finance secretary of the organisation, said around 1.5 lakh tea workers of 231 tea gardens across the country have joined the strike demanding that their daily wage be increased to Tk300 from Tk120.
On Saturday, workers of various tea gardens were seen holding protest rallies chanting different slogans justifying their demand.
In Maulvibazar, around 2,000 workers of Bharaura Tea Garden blocked the Dhaka-Sylhet highway for one hour from around 12 pm.
In Chattogram, about 15,000 workers of 21 tea gardens have joined the strike.
Ashu Dash, the panchayat president of Kodela Tea Garden in Rangunia Upazila of Chattogram, told TBS that around 1,000 workers, permanent and temporary ones, were abstaining from work and that their protest would continue until their demand for a pay hike is not met.
Pankaj Kand, vice-president of the Bangladesh Tea Workers Union, said, "Our demand for raising a worker's daily wage to Tk300 is very reasonable. We have made the demand as all daily essentials have become pricier in recent days."
Bijay Hazra, organising secretary of the organisation, said, "We are holding the general strike from today as part of the ongoing movement. But the movement will be suspended for the next two days due to the weekend and National Mourning Day. We will sit in a meeting today and decide the next course of action."
Earlier, tea workers had been observing a two-hour work abstention for a week demanding better pay. But, as tea garden owners did not accept their demand, the tea workers started the strike.
Tapan Dutta, chief adviser to the Bangladesh Tea Workers Union, told TBS that the wages of tea workers are revised every two years.
Workers' daily wage was fixed at Tk120 for two years from January 2019, he said, adding that workers then demanded that the daily pay be raised to Tk300 for the following two years while owners agreed to increase it to Tk134.
In the present reality of commodity rallies, it is unreasonable to fix a worker's daily wage at Tk134, he added.
He went on to say that discussions are going on with the garden owners over tea workers' salary increase, but a new wage has not been fixed even in one and a half years. In this situation, tea workers are passing their lives in extreme misery.
Golam Mohammad Shibli, chairman of Bangladesh Cha Sangsad, Sylhet, an organisation of tea garden owners, said workers should not go on strike while a discussion on the issue was underway between the two parties.
"It is also against the labour law. If work is stopped during this time of the season, both owners and workers will suffer. We hope workers will return to work soon," he said.