Tea workers announce protests ahead of plucking season

Published On: March 27, 2019 07:53 AM NPT By: Bhim Chapagain

ILAM, March 27: Tea workers of eastern Nepal have announced to launch protest against their employers, demanding implementation of the minimum wage fixed by the government. The indefinite protest will begin from Sunday.

The protest launched on the eve of the first plucking of the season is expected to affect owners of tea estates. 

Workers say they chose to launch protest as the government was doing nothing to implement the minimum wage fixed by the concerned government agency.

Issuing a joint statement on Tuesday, four trade unions of tea workers said all tea estates will be closed from Sunday. “We are organizing different protest programs in Chandragadhi of Jhapa on the day,” the trade unions said in the statement.

According to protest programs unveiled by the trade unions, tea workers will organize a sit-in in their respective estates carrying their tools on Monday and Wednesday. Similarly, tea workers will organize separate protest programs in Birtamod and Kakarbhitta on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. 

Umesh Regmi, a trade union leader, said that they were left with no option as the government and tea estates are not doing anything to implement trilateral agreement reached between trade unions, government and tea estates. 

Earlier in September, tea workers had stopped their indefinite protest after the government formed a high-level committee led by the Secretary of Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security to look into the issue. The committee submitted its report to the ministry two weeks ago. 

“Even though it has already been two weeks since the high-level panel submitted its report, nothing is being done to implement recommendations given by the committee. This left with no option but to hit the streets,” Sahi Kumar Rai, another leader of tea workers, said. “Tea workers will not return to work only if they are paid the minimum wage fixed by the government.”

The government has fixed minimum wage of tea estate workers at Rs 385 per day and Rs 51 per hour. Similarly, minimum monthly wage is Rs 10,781 including dearness allowance of Rs 4,312. The new pay structure was to be implemented from May last year. Though it has already been eight months since the minimum wage was hiked, workers are being paid only Rs 278 per day.

Two years ago, the government had set the minimum daily wage of Rs 278 and Rs 308 for laborers of tea estates and industries, respectively. Though the decision implemented by private tea factories, the government-owned tea estates leased out to private parties did not implement it. 

“Leave alone the recently-hiked wage, workers are denied even the minimum wage set before May,” said Bishnu Bhattarai, another leader of laborers. 

The Labor Act requires tea estates to provide appointment letter, insurance, leaves and medical expenses, among other, facilities to workers. However, tea estates are denying such facilities to the workers. They are also not implementing annual salary increment schemes as mentioned in the law.

According to government statistics, around 3.1 million people are employed in the tea industry.
Trade union leaders also say that tea workers should be enrolled in the social security scheme that the government launched earlier in November. 

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