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Bonus shadow on hill tea workers
- Region reels from water scarcity as planters, farmers count losses

Darjeeling, Aug. 20: The vagaries of nature are likely to hit the 60,000 tea garden workers hard as there are strong indications that the tottering industry is unlikely to raise the bonus rates this year.

The fluctuation in climatic conditions leading to a shortfall in tea production has already resulted in losses to the tune of Rs 25 crore for the industry. In June alone, the total shortfall in production compared to last year was 2,03,248 kg. The industry could never really recover its losses in the subsequent months. In the given scenario, there are indications that the tea industry will find it difficult even to match the bonus rate given to workers last year.

In 2005, Group A gardens in Darjeeling had received bonus at the rate of 11.70 per cent, Group B at 10.95 per cent and Group C and D at 9.70 and 8.90 per cent. The bonus is calculated on the total annual earnings of the workers.

Sandeep Mukherjee, secretary, Darjeeling Tea Association, said: “We have decided to convene a meeting here on the bonus issue with the unions on August 24. However, there is no doubt that the total tea production was hit hard this year.”

The Consultative Committee of Plantation Association — an umbrella organisation of trade unions — will also sit for a similar meeting for the Dooars and the Terai estates in Calcutta on August 27. It is unlikely that their bonus rates will be raised this time.

The Dooars garden had received bonus a shade less than the Darjeeling gardens last year. While Group A gardens there had received 11 per cent, Group B gardens were paid 9.75 per cent while the rates for Group C and Group D were 9 and 8.5 per cent respectively. According to the Bonus Act, the minimum bonus rate cannot be below 8.33 per cent.

With some of the workers unions, like the ABGL, already demanding a higher rate than last year, the meetings which usually go on for days are expected to be stormy.

N.K. Kumai, the president of the predominant Himalayan Plantation Workers’ Union, an affiliate of the GNLF, said: “This time, we want total transparency. We want the meetings to be short. The workers should get their bonus by mid-September.”

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