ILO, UNICEF, UNFPA, and UN Women have jointly organized a virtual stakeholders’ dialogue to highlight the living conditions of tea garden workers and their families during the Covid-19 pandemic under UN SDG joint programme ‘Enhancing social protection for female tea garden workers and their families in Sylhet division’ on 6 July 2021. Health safety of female workers and children, Covid 19 test-treatment facility and awareness, ensuring the safe working environment, and women empowerment were the key issues discussed in the session. The need for more public-private initiatives for the greater inclusion of tea workers and their family members in the social safety net services was also emphasized.
In the welcome speech, George Faller, Office in charge of the International Labor Organization (ILO Bangladesh), discussed the contribution of women workers in the tea industry and capacity development of the trade union to claim their rights to a decent work environment, social protection, access to information and participation in the decision-making process. But social and economic consequences are dramatically altering the trajectory towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without urgent socio-economic responses, the suffering will escalate, jeopardizing lives and livelihoods for coming years. To minimize the effect, government agencies can further increase their social safety net coverage targeting tea garden communities who are eligible for the benefits, he added.
The keynote of the dialogue highlighted the COVID-19 impact on the lives and livelihood of tea garden workers and their families, the experience of the Joint Programme in responding to precautionary measures of COVID-19 induced infections, and the good practices taken by BTA, BCSU, and government. Joint Programme initiated community meetings to disseminate information regarding the COVID-19. However, women’s participation in community meetings and decision-making processes is significantly lower than men's. Also, domestic violence against women has increased during this pandemic.
Civil Surgeons of Moulvibazar, Dr. Chowdhury Jalal Uddin Murshed highlighted that maternal health and child health services related information is not widely available to the tea workers due to limited manpower and access facility in the gardens. He mentioned the Joint Programme’s initiative to ensure access to these healthcare-related services and requested cooperation from other stakeholders as well.
Family members of the tea workers who work outside of the tea garden have lost their job opportunities significantly due to the lockdown situation. Social security services are essential to avert this economic catastrophe in the lives of low-wage workers. Initiatives have been taken to improve the living standards of this marginalized community. This includes data collection and integration for policy formulation. M Kazi Emdadul Islam, the District Commissioner of Sylhet highlighted the gap of previous interventions and emphasized the evidence-based inclusive development approach. It is important to assess the demand of the tea workers by collecting information from the field level, based on that different government agencies may take on development plans and implement those.
Speakers also recommended, to increase the opportunities for job skill training for the young family member of tea workers with the assistance of the Department of National Social Services and Department of Youth. These training initiatives will create new jobs, increase job efficiency and contribute to achieving economic growth. Besides, the government may introduce special allowances and schemes for the people who became unemployed during this pandemic. Considering the current situation, there is a need to increase the awareness about Covid-19 among the workers as well. In addition, the role of tea garden owners is vital in ensuring a decent work environment. The discussants also pointed out that increments in wages, extended housing facilities, and other social benefits would play a positive role in increasing the productivity of the tea workers.
Ram Bhajan Kairi the General Secretary of Bangladesh Cha Sramik Union urged to increase the COVID-19 testing facility, ensure vaccination for all workers and medical services to the infected tea workers and their family members.
Representative of Ministry of Labour and Employment, Civil Surgeons of Sylhet and Moulvibazar districts, government officials from the Department of Social Services, Department of Youth, Department of Cooperative, Department of Labor, Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, Additional Deputy Commissioner of Moulvibazar District and the representatives of Bangladesh Tea Association, Bangladesh Tea Workers Union, IPDS, FIVDB, Oxfam GB, BTS, CIPRB, ILO, UNICEF, UNFPA, UN Women and UN Resident Coordinators Office in Bangladesh participated in the virtual discussion.