Protesting tea workers in Jhapa say they are starvingKartik Urawa, a tea estate worker, has four daughters—all school going children. It has been nearly a month since the new academic session began. The private school where the girls have been studying is putting pressure on him to pay the admission dues and other fees. However, Urawa does not have the resources to do so.
Kartik Urawa, a tea estate worker, has four daughters—all school going children. It has been nearly a month since the new academic session began. The private school where the girls have been studying is putting pressure on him to pay the admission dues and other fees. However, Urawa does not have the resources to do so.
Urawa and his wife are workers at the Budhkaran Tea Estate in Bhadrapur Municipality-7. The tea estate has been closed for six weeks due to workers’ protest. Forty days into the strike, the workers are struggling to eke out their living.
“We don’t have rice grains in our stores. How can we pay our children’s school fees when we are struggling to manage two square meals a day?” Urawa asked.
Tea estate workers have been on an indefinite strike since April 1 demanding implementation of the monthly minimum wage and social security scheme guaranteed by new labour and social security laws. About 30,000 tea estate workers in Jhapa have been hit hard as a result of the agitation.
Although the strike entered its 40th day, there is no end in sight to the agitation, leaving the daily wage earners struggling against hunger.
“Rice purchased with the wages is almost over. We are now surviving on one rice meal a day and wild fruits and roots gathered from the forest area at other times,” said Bipta Munda, another tea estate worker. The five-member Munda family is solely dependent on their income from the tea estate.
According to Munda, it is difficult for tea workers to find jobs in other sectors. “People in other sectors generally do not give us work considering that we will go back to the tea estate once the strike is over. These last 40 days have been difficult for us,” he lamented.
Near the Budhkaran Tea Estate is the Kagali forest. For the past few weeks, the people out of work have been combing through the forest for edible roots. “We have been collecting Gittha [edible wild roots] because we have nothing else to eat. We have no work, no money,” said Kangres Baniya, another worker.
The government published the labour law in the Nepal Gazette, requiring employers to pay industrial workers a minimum of Rs385 daily or Rs13,450 monthly and to create a social security fund by this fiscal year. Nine months since the law was passed, tea factories have not implemented the rule and authorities are far from enforcing it.
The agitating workers said the factories had been paying them only Rs278 daily for the past nine months.