Editorial Notes

Don't short-change labourers by considering them 'cheap': Daily Star

The paper says the implementation of a minimum wage for low-wage labourers would give them a modicum of dignity.

A worker carries jute to load on a boat at a rural market in Munshigonj, Bangladesh, on Sept 17, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (THE DAILY STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Unbeknownst to us, we have made labour in Bangladesh undignified by terming it "cheap."

We have used this slogan to draw foreign investment, pronouncing the merits of investing here-that "labour comes cheap" in Bangladesh-without realising the damage it has caused to our national image. And this phenomenon, regrettably, has pervaded almost all sectors where production is labour-intensive, especially in the tea sector.

It seems that very little has changed since the day in May, a hundred years ago, when thousands of tea workers from Sylhet region left the tea gardens in protest of the meagre pay that they were being paid and the squalid conditions that they were made to live in.

This is more or less still the case even though, over the years, the tea industry has done well, and the condition for everyone else has flourished along with it. The tea workers are the only exception-they have gone from bad to worse.

Thus, one finds it rather strange that the minimum wage board for tea workers, which was set up five years too late, would recommend a pay scale that is three years old. The tea workers can't be blamed for rejecting out of hand the recommendations of Tk 117 - 120 (S$1.85 - S$1.90) made in June this year.

We wonder why the board did not recommend the minimum wage that they had calculated after discussions with the various stakeholders in situ-that of Tk 300 per month-but instead they preferred to stick to the previous scale.

We hope that the wage board members were aware of the underlying purpose of constituting the board. A wage board is formed when the administration feels that it is time to revise the pay scale of the employees/workers. Wasn't it a waste of time that, after all the efforts, there is no change in the lot of the tea garden workers? The board didn't even consider the huge spike in prices of essential commodities over the last several years.

In fact, the recommended wage is actually lower than the previous wage, given the rate of inflation. What a pity!

The statistics presented by the tea owners' association can be misleading. It claims that they are paying a daily wage of Tk 403 (S$6.40) in cash and in kind, which includes facilities like house rent, healthcare, pension, overtime, etc. But, according to the relevant section of the labour law, can it be considered as wage?

The actual wage, the amount that a tea labourer gets in hand, is about Tk 200, according to the Society for Environment and Human Development.

The long and short of it is that our tea workers have been given the short shrift by the wage board. The pay scale should be reconsidered to commensurate, at least, with the other labour-intensive sectors. It is not luxury that they demand, but a minimum wage that would give them a modicum of dignity, which the current pay does not.

  • The Daily Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.

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