Blog Detail

Home / Blog / Blog Detail
19066497_403_1634283557561_1634283564681.jpg

The Situation Of Tea Plantation Workers In Nepal

February 13, 2020, at 2:43 pm

The situation of tea plantation workers in Nepal

This summary presents the issues of tea plantation workers in the eastern part of Nepal from the report prepared by the SAAPE minimum wage campaign group. The methodology used to prepare the report is field visits, policy reviews and media archiving.

There are eighteen thousand farmers and eighty thousand workers employed in the tea plantation sector in Nepal. According to the survey with tea workers in the eastern part of Nepal, they have mentioned that they are not getting minimum wage as well as other mandatory benefits which are ensured by the government. Tea plantation workers are compelled to work only for NPR 278 per day which is insufficient to fulfil the basic living conditions like medicines, medical treatments, food and education, etc. The tea companies are providing food twice a day only which is not enough and the small hut with tarpaulin to live with and not enough necessary equipment for tea harvesting like gumboots, bags, etc. Tea workers also have to work with strong pesticides but they are not provided with any personal protection equipment for them. Some of the workers mentioned that they received NPR 20,000 only as gratuity for doing service for 50 years.

Though the Labour Act 2018 has set the minimum wage of NPR 385 per day for tea plantation workers, it is not provided to them. It has been also analysed that the government has set the tea industry as a special kind of industry and has set 25% less minimum wage than other industries. It is mentioned in the Labour Act to provide accidental insurance, medical insurance, retirement funds, wage increment every year, subsidy, etc. but it doesn’t seem to be followed by tea estates. The minimum salary per month as stipulated by the Labour Act (2017) has been set to NPR 13,450 and a daily wage of NPR 385 but the same has not been followed by the tea estates.

Tea plantation workers began the protest from 31st March 2019 demanding the implementation of Labour Act and Labour Regulations but the tea estate owners remained adamant and the government has not pressurised the tea estate/industry owners. During the protest, people remained unemployed which made them unable to manage their basic needs but still agreed demands were not fulfilled even after protesting for 33 days. Hence, the government ignored the demands of tea workers and it has been considered that the tea estates are functioning as if they remain under the different states and the acts and regulations are not liable to them within the same territory.

The tea estates mentioned that they have lost about 20% due to the inability to harvest first falls which led to less production up to 10%. Not having enough resources to fulfil the demand and based on this they demand that the government should buy their products and assure 10% of the profit. Tea owners also demanded 100 million per year to uproot old plants and plant new ones for ten years. In the development of protest, tea workers burnt the effigy of tea owners in Jhapa and demonstrated the equipment that tea estates are providing, the issue on minimum wage food scarcity in the road. Tea plantation workers marked World Labour Day in the 33rd day of the protest as labour law provisions were not implemented by the tea estates to comply with the Labour Act and contribution-based social security fund. In the meantime, workers have staged demonstrations with slogans, sit-in protest, submitting the memorandum, beating plates, displaying tools used in the tea garden. Besides, the local people are demanding to take over the tea estates by the government as the privatisation of tea estates creating complications rather than solving the issues.

Further progress of the protest was concluded with signing an agreement between workers and tea estate owners after the government concluded to implement a minimum wage and contribution-based social security on the favour of tea workers. The government directed the tea estate owners to pay minimum wage to the tea workers within two days and warned against taking legal actions. The government stated that not providing minimum wage is illegal and the tea estate owners should provide written application for not being able to pay minimum wage to the tea plantation workers despite using government land. Then the tea sector workers providing the minimum wage that is assured by the government and other facilities aligned with Labour Act such as accidental, medical insurance, leave facilities etc.

On 30th May 2019, Focused Group Discussion (FGD) was conducted between journalists, representatives from tea plantation workers, SAAPE, local political leaders, human rights activist assessing the gap that has arisen due to policy provision, the reason for protest and further finding a way for effective implementation of the Labour Acts and regulations in favour of tea plantation sector workers. Though the agreement has been concluded, owners of the tea estate are pressuring government that they won’t be able to run the estates if they have to ensure minimum wage imposed by the government. In the FGD, overall working conditions of tea sector workers were discussed regarding lack of food, equipment, minimum wage, medical and accidental insurance was discussed. And owners were proposing to pay only 60% of the minimum wage allocated by the government but workers instantly denied the proposal. With wage pay discrimination between male and female were discussed as the female workers were not getting the same pay. Three points agreement was made after the long and intense protest that was concerned with executing policies, ensuring minimum wages, and written agreement to be from the central level. However, all of the agreements have not yet been executed.

In the discussion, trade union member, Sahi Kumar Rai from Giribandhu Tea Estate, Jhapa stated that unions were blamed for encouraging tea sector workers for protesting. And the demands of owners and problems in the tea farming were also raised in the protest. The workers’ unions have to be responsible to mediate for addressing the demands made by the workers. Tea estate owners, workers and trade unions have to be responsible to address the reasonable demands and sustainability of the tea estates. Trade unions should also ensure labours receive wage fixed by the government and on time to fulfil their basic needs. From the human rights perspective, medicine, life insurance, education to the children and other basic services have not been ensured by the tea estate owners and government despite policy provisions.

There is a big role of political leaders, media, civil society, and human rights activists to advocate for the rights of tea plantation sector workers. They have played the role of mediator to settle protest and address the issue of tea workers. Besides, they have also a key role to make all the concerned authorities and entities to comply with the provisions of Labour Act 2017 and Social Security Act (SSA) 2018 and demanding the salary benefits that have been ensured by the government. On 14th May 2019, after concluding the three-point agreement, tea estates came into operation. Owners agreed to ensure minimum wage and to pay 30 % of wages to the protest period. Despite an agreement between owners and workers to provide minimum wage, it has been noted that tea estate owners are not letting them do their attendance. With the agreement between owners and workers, it has been concluded in the paper but the same has not been taken in practice. There has been discrimination between permanent workers and temporary workers. And the workers are not able to do their attendance after returning to the farm. Temporary workers, who have not received minimum wages, have been forced to collect green leaves at Rs.7 per kg. Now, they are forced to pluck 40 kg of green leaf daily by hands instead of 16 kg previously; 50 kg of green leaves are picked up daily by scissors instead of 35 kg previously; 400 litres pesticides are sprayed daily instead of 200 litres, and 300 kg of fertilizers to be added instead of 100 kg previously. This has raised a serious question over the safety of the tea plantation workers. However, the workers are ensured receiving minimum wage but the ratio of work has been doubled than before.

SAAPE members along with the workers’ unions and associations and other social entities are planning to take further the issue of minimum wage and social protection of tea plantation workers and pressurise the tea estate owners and the government to implement the agreements made among the concerned parties by organising further lobby and advocacy activities at local and national levels. After the protest the problem of the minimum wage to tea plantation workers was noted while many other sectors are also facing the same kind of problem resulted into an agreement, now the Labour Act and SSA apply to the tea workers receiving the benefits that have been ensured by the government. Though the agreement has been concluded its actual implementation into the field is not yet visible. There is discrimination between permanent and temporary workers. According to the tea workers, management is also threatening them to resign or transfer to other tea estates if they do not spray pesticides though they do not have such experience. It has been also said that they are demotivated by demoted to the previous position to estate watchmen. There is an urgent need for implementation of minimum wage and assurance of basic benefits assured by the government to ensure the safety and rights of the tea workers.

Recent development
On 16 September 2020, an agreement between tea estate owners and tea plantation workers has been made. The four-point agreement contains the commitment to increase the minimum wage of the worker by NPR 30 on daily wage. Previously the daily wage and an inflation allowance were NPR 231 and NPR 154 respectively. Now the workers will get the total NPR 415 with on daily basis as per the agreement. It has been also agreed that from the next fiscal year NPR 20 on the daily wage will be added . This agreement covers tea plantation sector in Jhapa district of Nepal. Along with the trade unions and workers struggle committees, SAAPE campaign member’s efforts will be on the effective implementation of the agreements and to continue lobby and advocacy works at the local and national levels to respond to these recurring issues by the state through proper policy actions.

Some references available in English

  1. http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/printedition/news/2019-04-28/a-cup-full-of-woes-for-tea-estate-workers.html
  2. https://thehimalayantimes.com/business/22nd-national-tea-day-observed/
  3. http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/printedition/news/2019-05-13/low-wages-and-ill-treatment-make-a-bitter-brew-for-tea-workers.html
  4. http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/printedition/news/2019-05-10/protesting-tea-workers-in-jhapa-say-they-are-starving.html
  5. https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/tea-entrepreneurs-workers-reach-3-point-agreement-protest-called-off/
  6. https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/ilam-tea-plants-shut-operations-over-green-leaves-quality-pricing/
  7. https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/tea-farmers-dumpgreen-leaves-on-the-road/
  8. https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/tea-farming-starts-in-dhading/
  9. https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/govt-will-help-organic-tea-farmers/

This brief is prepared by Bidur Subedi, Anup Chaudhary, and Praman Adhikari