Credits Participants pose for a photograph at a roundtable titled ‘Strengthening social protection for the tea garden workers in Sylhet division’, organized jointly by UNICEF, RAPID and Prothom Alo at Karwan Bazar on Tuesday. | Khaled Sarkar
Published on March 30, 2022

Education of Women And Children In Tea Gardens Are Social Protection Priorities

Speakers at a roundtable said a large number of tea garden workers are left out of social protection programmes despite various government initiatives. Children in the tea-garden community remain vulnerable across many indicators and only 12 per cent of pregnant workers receive benefits from the government social protection programme for pregnant and lactating mothers.

The discussants urged the government to increase the social protection programmes to uplift the living standards of the tea-garden workers.

The roundtable programme titled ‘Strengthening social protection for the tea garden workers in Sylhet division’ was organized jointly by United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Research and Policy Integration for Development (RAPID) and Prothom Alo at the daily’s office in Karwan Bazar on Tuesday .

Presenting the keynote paper jointly, UNICEF’s chief of social policy Mekonnen Woldegorgis and RAPID’s chairman MA Razzaque said average span of schooling in the tea garden areas is 2.9 years, compared to the national average of 6.2 years. School students of tea-garden area do not access any benefit under Primary Education Stipend Programme while a total of 5.4 per cent of school going children did not get back to school after Covid-19.

The study found that 61.4 per cent of tea garden workers and families are poor, which is almost three times the national poverty rate while the rate of extreme poverty in tea-garden area is estimated at 42.7 per cent.

They said the daily wage for ‘Category A’ gardens is Tk 120 but the wage and non-wage benefit is equivalent to Tk 400 per day according to Bangladesh Tea Association (BTA).


State minister for planning Shamsul Alam speaks at the roundtable as chief guest File photo
State minister for planning Shamsul Alam speaks at the roundtable as chief guest | File photo


Speaking at the round table as chief guest, state minister for the planning ministry Shamsul Alam said it’s really a big achievement that the government is spending 17.5 per cent of its budget in social protection.

“I must say it is a comforting news for the country in this time of Covid-19,” the state minister added. He said that the government will take more action keeping the needs of marginalized communities in mind.

Sheldon Yett, Country Representative of UNICEF, said social protection programmes should be viewed as an investment towards inclusive development rather than just a human rights aspect.

He said although Bangladesh is one of the largest tea producers of the world, the tea-garden workers are among one of the most disadvantaged of workers. Many tea-garden workers are excluded from social protection programmes, he added. Emphasized the needs of creating alternative employment sources for the youth of tea-garden and developing their skills.

Nazneen Kawsar Chowdhury, Member of Bangladesh Tea Board, said tea-garden workers get daily minimum wage of Tk 120 for plucking 24 kilogram tea leaves but they can earn up to Tk 500 per day during peak season. Md Shah Alam, Chairman of Bangladesh Tea Association (BTA) said, “Tea workers are our assets as we can’t run the industry without them. So we have responsibility towards them.”

He mentioned various benefits being extended to the tea garden workers in keeping with the government policies. However, admitted that many students in tea garden area have dropped out in Covid period and the schools have taken steps to bring them back.

Alexius Chicham, National Programme Coordinator of UN SDG JP in ILO said group insurance for the tea workers has been launched in some gardens but labour ministry should monitor strongly so that workers of all gardens are brought under the social insurance coverage.

Bazle Mustafa Razee, Executive Director, FIVDB, said increasing the participation of tea garden workers in local government bodies is of paramount importance since they are very much underrepresented.

Representatives of different ministries referred to various government initiatives for tea garden workers. Humayun Kabir, Joint secretary of Labour and Employment ministry, said the although the tea garden worker’s wage is Tk 120 but the amount equals to Tk 400 per day if non-wage benefits is added, what is even more than RMG workers.

He also said trade union of the tea garden workers is one of the strongest and powerful among the unions of the country. Joint Secretary of Ministry of Social Welfare Kamrul Hassan Khan spoke about various social protection schemes rolled out for the tea garden workers and admitted that special programmes should be adopted for upliftment of the tea garden workers.

Center for Policy Dialogue’s (CPD) distinguished fellow Mustafizur Rahman said the schools run by NGOs in the tea garden area should be brought under the primary school stipend facility. Referring to a study, he said percentage of child labor is 18.8 per cent in tea garden while the national average is 6.8 per cent. Child labour should be reduced in tea garden area, he added.

Mitali Dutta, vice chairman of Sreemangal upazila parishad referred to many problems women labours face while working in gardens including lack of space to rest, potable water and means to maintain menstrual hygiene.

Saymea Haque Bidisha, Professor of Economics department in DU, Sheikh Muslima Moon, Additional Director, Department of Women’s Affairs, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs and Dewan Hoque (Emdad), Health System Specialist of UNFPA, among others spoke at the programme.

Prothom Alo associate editor Abdul Quayum gave welcome speech while its assistant editor Firoz Choudhury moderated the session.

Originally published.