TEA NEWS: Maximum tea bonus for hills – 20% festival allowance before interim wage revision talks – empathy for the tea workers but not for Bengal’s political arm twisting ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Darjeeling, Sept. 19: The Darjeeling tea industry, which has registered a decline in productivity, increase in production costs and is grappling with high percentage of absenteeism, has decided to give the maximum permissible annual bonus of 20 per cent to its workers this year.
The bonus announcement comes at a time when negotiations for an interim wage revision are on. Industry observers believe that the management will use the bonus as a lever to turn the deal in their favour during the talks for the interim wage hike.
Two separate settlements between the unions and the Darjeeling Tea Association and the Indian Tea Association have been inked, and both bodies have agreed to the same bonus rate.
Sandeep Mukherjee, secretary of the Darjeeling Tea Association, said: “The agreement was inked last night. We have agreed to pay bonus at the rate of 20 per cent for gardens falling within Grades A, B and C and at the rate of 17 per cent for Grade D.” Many yardsticks are used to categorise the gardens — productivity and the financial health of the companies managing the estates being two of them.
The bonus percentage is calculated on the total annual earnings of a worker. The upper limit has been fixed at Rs 9,000. This means that if the bonus works out to be more than the upper limit, the worker will be entitled to only Rs 9,000.
A.K. Roy of the Teesta Valley Tea Company who represents the ITA that inked the deal today said: “We had no option as an agreement had already taken place for other gardens (with the DTA). We have to respect the decision of the other associations.”
Bhaskar Prasad Chaliha, secretary of the Terai branch of the ITA, said the hill gardens had to face drought like conditions, general strike and high production costs this year. “Production went down by 15 per cent compared to last year and there has been an increase in production cost by 20 per cent,” said Chaliha.
Roy said the hill gardens were also grappling with a high percentage of absenteeism. “The absenteeism is as high as 30 per cent (among permanent workers). We have told the unions that this is detrimental to the industry.”
The unions claimed that a hard bargain had produced such bonus rates. “Our hard bargaining has given us this result. Since 1991 the gardens had not received a 20 per cent bonus. This is the highest in recent times as in 1990 the bonus rates were already on a high,” said Suraj Subba, vice-president of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha affiliated Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union.
Last year, the bonus rate was 17, 16, 15 and 13 per cent for Grades A, B, C and D gardens. This means that workers of some estates have got even a five per cent hike in bonus. According to the bonus act, the maximum rate cannot cross the 20 per cent mark while the lowest should not be below 8.33 per cent for any garden. “We cannot but think that maybe the interim wage hike will not take place after such a bonus,” said an industry observer. The tea unions have, however, refused to link the bonus settlement with the wage revision. “These are different issues altogether and should not be linked,” said P.T. Sherpa, president of the Morcha tea union.
Subba said the three gardens under the West Bengal Tea Development Corporation had agreed to disburse bonus at the rate of 18 per cent. “Last year, the WBTDC gardens had given bonus at the rate of 14 per cent,” said Subba.
The bonus settlement for other Darjeeling gardens, which are neither affiliated to the DTA nor the ITA, will take place at the district magistrate’s office tomorrow.