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Tribal tea strike threat

Siliguri, April 27: The Adivasi Vikas Parishad-backed Progressive Tea Workers’ Union has announced that it will launch an agitation, which may eventually lead to an indefinite strike in the tea industry, from tomorrow to demand among others a wage revision.

The PTWU, which has considerable influence in the Dooars, will, however, first send memorandums demanding a daily wage of Rs 250 for garden workers to the management of the 230-odd tea estates in the Terai and the Dooars.

“Each unit will submit a memorandum to the manager or any other management representative tomorrow, while iterating the demand to fix our daily wage at Rs 250,” PTWU chairperson Sukra Munda said.

“On April 29, hour-long meetings would be held in front of the garden gates. We want the state and the planters to take up the issue with priority or else, we would have to resort to a strike.”

The move, observers said, follows the success achieved by the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union, the trade union of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.

The hill union, bypassing existing industry norms, had managed to ink a bipartite agreement with the planters and clinch a wage deal for Rs 90 a day for workers in the 87 gardens that grow the premium Darjeeling tea. The hike of Rs 23, from Rs 67, is considered the highest in the history of the tea industry. The raise was, however, preceded by agitation and strikes by the Morcha union.

Since then, trade unions in the plains have been apprehensive about the deal they would be able to manage for their workers.

“It is clear that PTWU is trying to adopt a similar strategy (like the Morcha) in the plains as far as its movement is considered. But their announcement lacks justification because talks at the tripartite levels to fix the revised wages has already commenced,” an observer said.

“The PTWU, like the Morcha, is attempting to sideline other trade unions. It plans to take up the negotiation on its own with the planters and the state. The situation however, is different in the plains. Unlike the Morcha in the hills, other trade unions still have considerable support base in the gardens and planters are always interested in an industry-wide agreement, agreed upon by all unions,” the observer said.

Among the other demands of the PTWU is a holiday on Karam Puja (a tribal festival) and land rights to garden workers. Tea planters said they would like to have a look at the memorandum before commenting.

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