“Increase Minimum Wage, Provide Social Protection, And Enlist Workers!” Tea Plantation Labour Unions In Nepal Demand Workers’ Rights

“Increase minimum wage, provide social protection, and enlist workers!” Tea Plantation Labour unions in Nepal demand workers’ rights

The wage for tea workers in Nepal is currently NPR 435. Although the wage is to be increased biannually, the increment has not taken place for three years now. Even the increment that takes place does not even compensate for the high inflation in the country. In addition, the minimum wage that is published in Nepal Gazette is discriminatory with minimum wage in other sectors (except the tea plantation sector) fixed at NPR 577. Women especially face difficulties with regards to the periods of pregnancy and maternity, with the provision of only two months of paid leave and one month of unpaid leave. Although the government has brought the contribution-based social security scheme targeted at both formal and informal workers in the country, workers in tea sector find it difficult to enrol themselves in the scheme as many of the workers are made to work without employment contract. The government also cannot monitor the labourers’ access to state services when they are not registered at municipal level. Demanding sustainable solutions to these concerns, General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT), a SAAPE member, held a public rally in Jhapa (Koshi province) on the occasion of International Workers’ Day. Men and women, who participated in the public rally, chanted the slogans:

Our rights are being curtailed!

Let’s get organised, trained, and mobilized!

Let’s intervene for our rights!

Subsequent to the May Day event, a discussion was held among the representatives from the Federation of Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Nepal (FAPWUN) (an affiliate of GEFONT) and Nepal Tea Garden Workers Union (NTGWU) (an affiliate of Nepal Trade Union Congress) on the contents of the demand letter addressed to the Regional Office of National Tea and Coffee Development Board (NTCDB) urging the Tea Board to take steps towards urgently addressing the issues of establishing a uniform minimum wage for tea and other sectors, revising wage on a scientific basis, provisioning of social protection facilities to both formal and informal workers in the tea sector, and registration of tea workers at the local level. Sita Sapkota, the President of All Nepal Tea Workers Union (an affiliate of All Nepal Trade Union Federation), was briefed over the phone (as she was currently in Kathmandu) regarding the contents of the demand letter. Finally, the demand letter, agreed by all three major trade unions working on the tea sector in Nepal, was signed by Deepak Tamang and Sahi Kumar Rai, respectively the President of Nepal Tea Garden Workers Union and Vice-President of FAPWUN.

“Increase minimum wage, provide social protection, and enlist workers!” Tea Plantation Labour unions in Nepal demand workers’ rights
“Increase minimum wage, provide social protection, and enlist workers!” Tea Plantation Labour unions in Nepal demand workers’ rights

On 2 May 2023, the tea plantation labour unions submitted the demand letter to the Koshi Regional Office of the National Tea and Coffee Development Board (NTCDB). Santa Kumar Rai, the Coordinator of FAPWUN, on behalf of the three labour unions working in tea sector, read out the following specific demands to Indra Adhikari, the Acting Regional Director of NTCDB. with the following specific demands:

  1. Legislative discrimination against tea workers related to the minimum wage should be ended. A uniform minimum wage for all sectors is to be implemented. 
  2. Wage must be revised based on scientific and practical criteria.
  3. Local governments should set up labour desks and the relevant local units should enlist the workers. 
  4. Considering the fact that the sector is dominated by women workers, social security measures should extend special provisions to women such as extended maternity leave and childcare facilities, based on the principle of contribution-based social security. The agreement between trade unions and industrialists on enlisting workers for social security fund, following the Contributions Based Social Security Act 2017, should be implemented. 
  5. All workers, be it temporary or permanent, are to be hired only after providing an employment contract and all provisions of the Labour Act 2017 should be followed. 
  6. All kinds of labourers following the Section 10 of the Labour Act 2017 should be included under the provisions of provident fund and gratuity and the deposited amount should be provided to workers once they leave the job.

Indra Adhikari, the Acting Regional Director of the National Tea and Coffee Development Board responded positively to the demand letter and assured that based on the demands presented by the labour unions, the regional office would organise a multi-stakeholder dialogue among the concerned stakeholders – labour unions, Tea Producers’ Association, Central Tea Cooperative Federation, and Nepal Tea Development Corporation Limited – in an effort to sustainably solve the problems faced by each of the stakeholders. Further, he stated that he would send a copy of the demand letter to the central office of the Board in Kathmandu. The trade union leaders – Santa Kumar Rai and Deepak Tamang – briefed the Board on the talks taking place between the labour unions and Tea Producers’ Association, and expressed their concern that the demands placed by workers for increasing the daily minimum wage, as on 22 June 2022, has yet not been addressed. 

Additionally, the Nepal Tea report, published by SAAPE in March 2023, was handed over to the Regional Office of the National Tea and Coffee Development Board. The report, authored by Sudhir Shrestha, documented the unfair treatment of tea plantation workers (among whom a large proportion is women) and smallholder farmers in Nepal. In the end, SAAPE issued a press release (see below in Nepali language) regarding the submission of a demand letter by the workers’ union to the Tea Board.

प्रेस विज्ञप्ति

२०८० वैशाख १९

विर्तामोड, झापा

नेपालमा चिया मजदुरका हक अधिकारका लागिकार्यरत तीन चिया मजदुर संगठनले १३४औं अन्तर्राष्ट्रि«य मजदुर दिवसका सन्दर्भमा मिति २०८० वैशाख१९ गते राष्ट्रिय चिया तथाकफी विकास बोर्डको क्षेत्रीय कार्यालयसमक्ष चियामजदुरको हकहितको संरक्षण गर्दै कानुनी विभेदको अन्त्यलगायतका मागहरुसहित मागपत्र बुझाएका छन् ।कार्यालयका नि. क्षेत्रीय निर्देशक, इन्द्र अधिकारीमार्फत केन्द्रीय कार्यालयसम्म यीमागहरूका बारे जानकारी गराएर उक्त मागहरूलाई राज्यबाट सम्बोधन गराउनका लागि पहल गर्न र समन्वयकारी भुमिका खेल्नसंगठनका प्रतिनिधिहरुले उक्तभेटघाटमा ध्यानाकर्षण गराएका छन् ।

उक्त कार्यक्रममा नेपालचियाबगान श्रमिक संघकाकेन्द्रीय अध्यक्ष, दीपकतामाङ, नेपाल कृषितथा बगान क्षेत्र श्रमिक संघका केन्द्रीय उपाध्यक्ष सही कुमार राई तथा चिया मजदुरका हकहितमा सक्रिय अभियन्ता शन्तकुमार राईको सहभागिता थियो । साथै गरीबी उन्मूलनका लागि दक्षिण एशियामञ्च (सापे) काप्रतिनिधीहरू सुधीर श्रेष्ठ र प्रमाण अधिकारी पनि सहभागी थिए। 

उक्त मागपत्रमा न्यूनतम ज्यालाका सन्दर्भमा चियामजदुरविरुद्ध हुने गरेकाकानुनी विभेदको अन्त्य, वैज्ञानिक र व्यावहारिक मापदण्डका आधारमा ज्याला निर्धारण, स्थानीय तहमा श्रम डेस्कको स्थापना तथा मजदुरहरुको सूचीकरण, महिलालाई विस्तारित सुत्केरी बिदा, बाल हेरचाह सुविधालगायतका विषयलाई सम्बोधन गर्न मागगरिएको छ । साथै श्रमऐन २०७४ कोपूर्ण पालनाका लागिमागपत्रले जोड दिएको छ । रोजगारी सम्झौता पत्र दिएपछिमात्र काममालगाउनपर्ने र ऐनमा व्यवस्था भएबमोजिम सबै मजदुरहरूलाई सञ्चयकोष र उपदान रकमकोव्यवस्था गर्न र उक्त रकम सुविधा मजदुरले रोजगारी छाडेपछि उपलब्ध गराउनुपर्ने मागपनि उक्त पत्रमा गरिएको छ । 

मागपत्र बुझेपछि, चियाबोर्डका नि. क्षे. निर्देशक इन्द्र अधिकारीले बहुसरोकारबाला बैठकआयोजना गरी छलफल अघि बढाउने र यी मागहरूलाई केन्द्रमा पुर्‍याउने प्रतिबद्धता जनाउनुभयो । उक्त अवसरमा सापेद्वारा प्रकाशित नेपालका चिया मजदुर तथासाना किसानसम्बन्धी प्रतिवेदन पनि बोर्डलाई बुझाइएको थियो ।

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