TEA NEWS: Gardens balk at interim wage raise

TEA NEWS: Gardens balk at interim wage raise – no bending to political strong arm techniques for momentary  electoral gain ?!!

Tea Gardens - unwilling to bow under Bengal's political blackmail ?!! (TT)

FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT

Darjeeling, Sept. 15: Tea garden managements have not yet submitted their proposals on the interim wage revision of workers, a move expected to cast a shadow on the success of a tripartite meeting scheduled for tomorrow in Siliguri.

At a meeting in Calcutta on September 9, state labour minister Anadi Sahu had asked the managements to submit a fresh proposal on interim wage revision within seven days. The deadline expires tomorrow.

Keeping an eye on the Assembly elections next year, the minister had said the government would be compelled to take steps to implement the minimum wage for around 3 lakh tea workers in north Bengal if the gardens failed to draw up a fresh pay structure by the next seven days.

The deadline was set after the government’s suggestion to increase the wage from Rs 67 to Rs 100 was rejected by the garden authorities, while the management’s proposal to provide a one-time amount of Rs 400 to each worker, which was to be recovered at a mutually agreeable date, was turned down by the workers’ union.

“The management has already expressed its inability to go in for a wage revision as an earlier settlement on tea garden workers is valid till March 31, 2011,” said a management source.

Even though representatives of the Consultative Committee of Plantation Association, a body representing planters, will attend the meeting, its top brass, which can take a decision on the issue, is unlikely to be present in the Siliguri session. They have cited a bonus meeting for tea gardens of the Dooars and the Terai in Calcutta next day to stay away from tomorrow’s meeting.

The CCPA draws its members from the Darjeeling Tea Association, India Tea Association, Tea Association of India, India Tea Plantation Association and the Terai Indian Plantation Association.

The tea trade unions have been demanding that the given the increase in the prices of essential commodities there should be an immediate wage revision till the earlier agreement expires on March 31, 2011.

Sources said even if the minister decided to start the process for implementation of the minimum wage for garden workers, it would take time as a committee had to be formed and its recommendation has to be passed by the Assembly. “By then the Assembly elections will be announced and the earlier wage agreement will be near to expiring, bringing the issue back to square one,” said a source.

In Bengal, generally the minimum wage varies from Rs 96 per day to Rs 193.50, depending on whether the worker is unskilled, semi-skilled or skilled and the sector one is being employed.

Meanwhile, the bonus meeting for the 64-odd tea gardens in the hills, which was held at the Darjeeling Tea Association office in Darjeeling yesterday, remained inconclusive. “The unions demanded a bonus of 20 per cent for all gardens, irrespective of the grades, but we told them that even if the bonus is disbursed at the rates agreed upon last year the workers will get more money,” said Sandeep Mukherjee, the secretary of the DTA.

Bonus is paid according to the total annual earning of the workers and there has been a hike in garden wages every year. Last year, the bonus for Grade A gardens was disbursed at the rate of 17 per cent, followed by 16, 15 and 13 per cent for Grade B, C and D gardens. Gardens are graded according to various yardsticks including the profits made by the management over a period of time.

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