For 55-year-old tea garden worker, Rajkumari Hajra, the life of a tea worker is hard to navigate as they balance between demanding their rights and keeping their job.
After working in the garden for more than 20 years, Rajkumari recently understood her legal rights, through an ILO provided training, and can feel that a massive change is coming in the near future.
“When I started working in the garden, the male workers used to get Tk 30 wage per day while females Tk 20. Now, we all get Tk 120, as the gender discrimination dissolved,” she explains.
After spending around 35-years of her life as a housewife, Rajkumari started working as a tea worker in 2000, considering the needs of her family.
Her husband died ten years ago and her only son Dulal Hajra, 30, is also a tea worker. Rajkumari is blessed with two grandchildren.
Rajkumari said, “After working for around 20 years, I never got to know my rights. I received a training around a year ago by ILO under the Joint SDG Fund programme. And now, I know my rights as a tea worker.”
“I know that we are meant to get Tk 120 wage after plucking 23 kgs of tea leaves and we are entitled to get extra payment per kg plucked tea leave. I know about the rights of fresh drinking water and sanitation while working in the garden sections. And many more rights like maternity leaves,” she said.
Since being conscious of her rights, Rajkumari isn't just trying to achieve access to these rights, but also trying to teach and build unity among the workers.
“During the breaktime, I try to disseminate my knowledge to other workers so that they can also be conscious of their rights.”
However, they often put their only livelihood at stake by demanding their rights. Rajkumari said that the garden staff often sack workers from their jobs when they demand something rightful.
But the tea garden workers have found a way around. When a tea garden worker is dismissed from employment, supporting laborers organize and offer solidarity, exhibiting strength in numbers.
“Truly, the situation is changing. We never demanded anything because we never knew our rights. Now we face action when we demand, but still, we have learnt to raise demand as we know our rights.”