Making Social Dialogue work for women tea workers

Sharing lessons from Malawi on ensuring women tea workers’ voices are heard and respected. Learning from the Latin American banana sector.

Agenda and Panelists

Women form the majority of the lowest paid part of the tea workforce – yet they are not always able to take an active and meaningful part in social dialogue via their trade unions.

The Plantation and Agricultural Workers’ Union of Malawi and other African countries have made good progress in addressing this problem – with support from NGOs like Oxfam.

It is a problem well understood by workers on Latin American banana plantations – some of them too have made good progress with ensuring trade unions better represent women workers.

THIRST is hosting this discussion forum to help share learning between the two regions and the two sectors – and beyond – on effective ways to ensure that women – particularly those working in African tea plantations – can take an active role in social dialogue.

This Discussion Forum topic was one of those voted for by participants of the international roundtable hosted by THIRST on June 16th on Building Tea Back Better. Read more on that topic here.


15:00    1. Introduction – Sabita Banerji, CEO of THIRST (2 mins)

  1. What has worked and what have been the main challenges of making Malawi tea trade unions more effective for women workers.
    Denis Banda, PAWU & Juliet Suliwa, Oxfam (10 mins).
  2. Learning from the Latin American experience: the main challenges to the representation of women in trade unions and advice on the most effective way to address the challenges. Iris Munguia and Adela Torres (with interpretation from Alistair Smith, Bananalink) (20 mins)

15:45   Discussion with participants – Chaired by Stirling Smith, Trustee of THIRST (45 mins)

16:25    Summary of discussion and next steps – Stirling Smith (5 mins)

16:30    Ends.



Adela Torres, General Secretary of the National Union of Workers in Agricultural Industries (SINTRAINAGRO), Colombia & representative on the Women Workers’ Platform of Demands for the Coordinating Body of Latin American Banana and Agro-industrial Unions (COLSIBA).

Adela has been General Secretary of Latin America’s largest agricultural workers ‘union for over ten years. Prior to that, for many years she was responsible for women’s work in the union. She has also been a local city councillor in Apartado.


Denis Banda, General Secretary, Plantation And Agriculture Workers Union (PAWU), Malawi

Denis has worked in the tea estates for twenty three years from 1976 to 2001, his profession is Medical Assistant. As General Secretary for PAWU, he is responsible for the proper administrative duties of the union with direction from National Executive Board, which involves a wide range of duties. He also acts as the spokesperson of the Union.

Since in 2015 – with the support from Malawi Tea 2020  – PAWU has achieved improvement in membership numbers from year 2015 to 2020 and improvement in wage for the tea estate workers. As an educator I have worked so hard to improve the capacity of members at the branch level which has led to an increase in negotiations skills of  branch members. Communication between PAWU and the employers and the Tea Association of Malawi (TAML) and other stakeholders has also improved.


Gracian Khembo, President, Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (PAWU)

Gracian, President of PAWU, is a graduate of Bunda College of Agriculture, specialising in  Agriculture and Agronomy. He is also Macadamia Field Manager at the Kawalazi Tea Estate Company Limited, where he has worked since 2000. In 2016 Gracian was elected as Vice President of the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions. As current President of the Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (PAWU), Gracian has overseen negotiations with TAML on issues such as wages, culminating most recently in an agreement to raise the minimum wage for tea workers.

Iris Munguia Women’s Secretary FESTAGRO (Federation of Trade Unions of Agribusiness Workers), Honduras & representative on the Women Workers’ Platform of Demands for the Coordinating Body of Latin American Banana and Agro-industrial Unions (COLSIBA)

Munguia was born on a Chiquita banana plantation and has spent her life advocating for labor, human, and women’s rights. With 33 years’ experience as a banana worker and union organizer, Munguia is the coordinator for the Women’s Chapter of COSIBAH and the Women’s Chapter of the Coordination of Latin American Banana Unions (COLSIBA). Iris is a Honduran union leader and is part of the Federation of Trade Unions of Agroindustrial Workers in Honduras, FESTAGRO, which has 4,000 members, of which 800 are women. From the Federation, Iris has fiercely defended the workers against what she considers to be abuses by transnational companies.


Juliet Suliwa, Project Coordinator for Malawi Tea 2020 Revitalization Programme, Oxfam Malawi

Juliet is a development professional with extensive experiences in project management, strategic management, monitoring, evaluation, learning and research. She has over 10 years’ experience working with government, development partners and private sector institutions at both local and national level, including with Airtel Malawi as an Environmental and Social Management Specialist on multi-million dollar World Bank funded projects; and as a Research Associate with Centre for Development Management – a high profile Malawian consulting firm. Juliet holds a Master’s in Environmental Sciences from Chancellor College, University of Malawi and a BSc in Environmental Sciences from Bunda College of Agriculture, University of Malawi. Juliet’s current role involves working with a range of stakeholders from workers, to tea estate managers, unions, international donors, Oxfam colleagues in the UK etc and applying her knowledge of labour rights, including living wages, gender inclusiveness and collective bargaining and recognition agreement processes.