Workers from tea plantations who have migrated to other states in India to work in hotels, restaurants, plantations, construction and as daily wage workers are now returning to the plantations due to loss of work and income. The water and sanitation committees organized on plantations in Assam and West Bengal with the support of the IUF are fighting to secure the water they need to protect tea workers and their families against the coronavirus.
Lack of water and basic sanitation facilities has put tea workers and their families at risk from COVID-19. Pre-existing health conditions due to lack of nutrition and continuous exposure to toxic chemicals on tea plantations put them at heightened risk.
The women’s self-organized water and sanitation committees which have been active for more than two years are raising community awareness and have approached the plantation managements to secure quarantine facilities for workers returning from outside and isolation facilities for people who show symptoms. They are securing arrangement for water and soap facilities in the plantations, factories and in housing lines (worker housing), where there is a permanent shortage of potable water and it is impossible to implement recommendations on frequent hand washing and basic hygiene.
While these basic measures are imperative in the current crisis, the committees and the IUF will continue to demand that tea companies invest in basic water and sanitation facilities, and that plantation managements recognize and negotiate with the women’s water and sanitation committees to implement permanent solutions.