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Ownership plan for Tata workers

Siliguri, Aug. 24: The Tata Group has decided to come up with a business model that will give ownership rights to its garden workers.

All employees — from estate managers to labourers — of the 25 tea gardens owned by the Tata Group in north Bengal and Assam will get a chance to be a shareholder of the company.

Buoyed by its success in south India, the Tata Group has decided to float a new company for gardens of the north, 21 per cent share of which will belong to the workers.

“The proposal came a couple of months ago,” said Prabir Bhattacharya, secretary of the Dooars Branch of Indian Tea Association (DBITA). “Trade union leaders and tea garden staff in all posts were consulted. We have been told that Tata will set up a new company, in which its own share will be less than that of the workers.”

While Tata will keep 19 per cent of the shares, the workers will hold 21 per cent. The remaining 60 per cent would go to banks and other financial institutions, sources said.

In south India, the Tata Group had set up Kanan Devan Hills Plantation Company on March 31, 2005 with the same purpose. There, too, the Tatas have a smaller stake compared to the workers, office staff and financial institutions.

Around 9,000 workers are employed in the four tea estates in the Dooars — Batabari, Rungamutte, Damdim and Neora — owned by the Tatas.

Tea industry sources here said any garden worker willing to be a shareholder of the Tata subsidiary has to pay a minimum sum of around Rs 8,000 while the office staff would have to shell out around Rs 12,000-15,000.

For assistant managers or managers, the sum would be around Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.5 lakh, they added.

“If any employee or worker accepts the offer, there are provisions to deduct the sum from his payment in instalments in case he is unable to pay it in one go,” the DBITA secretary said.

Workers, however, apprehend loss of benefits and want some more clarification from the Tatas' end. “We want to know if there will be any change in the status of a worker after he becomes a shareholder,” said Bhulu Baraik, a labourer and the unit president of the Citu–affiliated Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union of the Rungamutte tea estate.

Trade union leaders, who were present at the meeting organised by the DBITA to present the Tatas’ proposal before them, said they are yet to take a decision.

“We are going through the proposal now, weighing the pros and cons,” said Chanu Dey, secretary of the Malbazar zonal committee of the CPM and a Citu leader. “We have asked the representatives of the Tata Group to organise meetings at their estates in the Dooars to ensure that each worker understands their plan. We have also told them to distribute booklets in Hindi. We can take a decision after we know the opinion of the workers.”

Planters, however, assured that the proposal would not harm workers’ interest.

“Even after procuring shares, they would continue to receive benefits like any other employee as per existing laws. Simultaneously, they would earn from the shares as per company norms,” said Bhattacharya. “Such a proposal is designed to improve work culture and industrial relations.”

Confirming that a proposal has been mooted, Tata Group officials said certain modalities are to be finalised before it is implemented. A senior official, posted at the Guwahati office of Tata Tea, told The Telegraph over phone: “The process of implementing the proposal has started. We need to sit again with trade union leaders, workers and employees before giving it a final shape.”

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