“I dream of being a teacher and I’m about to complete my gradation. I am also raising my children to be doctor or engineer someday, so that they don’t have to work in tea garden like me.”
Fulkumari Gaddi, mother of two and a worker of Kalachhara Tea Garden in Moulvibazar, expresses her urge to ensure her children a life free from the shackles of the tea industry.
“My mother and parents-in-law were tea workers. My husband works in the garden too. Considering the family need, I joined started working at the garden two years ago. Even though I was born and raised in a tea working family, I didn’t know my rights.”
But a single-day training organized by ILO under Joint SDG programme on July this year changed her way of understanding her rights as a tea worker.
“I never knew that my rights are protected under the Labour Law. With the training, I understood that the law can help us develop our status while the traditional way will never. Traditionally, after plucking leaves, we were never meant to ask and see how much leaves I actually plucked. Now that I know my right, I can ask to ensure whether I am getting deprived or not.”
To earn a daily wage of Tk 120, a worker must pluck 23 kgs of tea leaves a day. They are also to be paid Tk 2.5 per extra kgs of leaves plucked.
A general tea worker’s life is hard. They start their day early in the morning and work at the plantation section at least eight hours. And to worsen the situation—the working environment is always absent in the sections.
“Through the training, I came to know that the law instructs that there must be sanitary latrine and arrangement of fresh drinking waters in the section. Now that we urged the Panchayet (local council), they urged the owners and the situation is changing. The garden authority arranged fresh drinking water in the section and also assured us of arranging sanitary latrine soon.”
However, it takes time and a serious effort of the Panchayet to get the facilities which are within their rights. The Panchayet’s willingness is also important in some aspect, Fulkumari says.
“The Chatla Division, where I live and work, is a subsidiary garden of Kalachhara Tea Garden and is located around four kilometres away of the main garden. In our division, there is no government primary school, not even a private one. Decades ago, an NGO opened a school in the division which they closed after their project ended. Now we run the school all by ourselves, with no help from anyone.”
“During the training, we came to know that school is mandatory in garden. Then we urged the Panchayet to propose the garden owner to own the school. They tell us that there is a government school in the main garden and all children should go there. Is it possible for little children to walk that much for schooling?” says Fulkumari.
Her elder daughter Pramitha Tirkhi is a playgroup student of their very own school that got no name and support, except the students get stipend from government fund.
“With the knowledge given in the training, now I know that there must be healthy working environment, I reserve the right of my work and no one can force me, I am entitled to have maternity leave properly and many more.”
Knowing about raising voice is important to achieve rights; Fulkumari speakers out now.
“Now we realized that we’re getting paid lowly and a raise of wage is evident. We lack modern machineries and other necessities like sanitary latrine and fresh water. But the Panchayet not playing vital role to carry our demands,” she said.
Fulkumari Gaddi said, “To ensure my right, I wish to become a Panchayet leader someday. And I wish to lead the trade union in future.”