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Threat to stop tea despatch for wage hike

Siliguri/Jaigaon, July 21: Trade unions affiliated to the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha have threatened to impose an embargo on the despatch of tea from gardens in the Dooars and the Terai from July 26 to demand a revision in the workers’ wages.

The garden workers in the plains are currently paid Rs 67 a day according to an agreement reached between planters and trade unions three years ago. The duration of the deal ended on March 31 and all negotiations held so far to fix a new wage failed to reach a consensus.

“We had a meeting with leaders of the Parishad-backed Progressive Tea Workers’ Union at Banarhat yesterday. We decided to hold meetings in front of the gates of each tea garden in the Terai and the Dooars for two hours from tomorrow, demanding immediate fixing of wages,” said Govind Pradhan, the assistant general secretary of the Morcha-affiliated Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union.

“The meetings will continue till July 25 and if the tea companies do not revise the wage by then, we will stop the despatch of tea from the gardens.”

The Parishad union noted that the labourers in the plains continued to draw the old wage while their counterparts in the Darjeeling hills were paid Rs 90 a day.

“Workers in the hills have been getting revised wages for the past three months. But in the Terai and the Dooars, a new rate is yet to be fixed. The Morcha had also enforced an embargo on the despatch of tea in the hills to clinch a hike of Rs 23 in the wage. Apart from stopping the transport of tea from the estates, the labourers will also adopt a policy of ‘go-slow’ at their workplaces. They will join work, but will discharge their duties in a sluggish manner,” said Shukra Munda, the chairperson of the Parishad union.

The planters in the plains had offered a hike of Rs 8 every year so that the wage would reach Rs 91 in 2013 from the current Rs 67. But the unions rejected the offer outright and wanted the garden owners to come forward with fresh proposals. The offers were made at tripartite meetings convened by the state labour department.

The two apex bodies of tea trade unions in the plains have already announced a joint convention in Siliguri on Saturday to press for the wage revision.

“Representatives of more than 30 trade unions will meet at Mitra Sammilani auditorium in Siliguri on July 23 and decide on the future course of action. The convention might even call for an indefinite strike in the tea industry for the wage hike,” said Samir Roy, the convener of the Defence Committee for Plantation Workers’ Rights.

The garden owners said halt in the despatch of tea and slow work would cripple the industry.

“We have already started talks and are confident that the issue can be settled through discussions,” said Prabir Bhattacharya, the secretary of the Dooars branch of the Indian Tea Association.

“If the labourers stop the despatch of tea and are slow at work, the entire sector will be affected.”

Deb invite

North Bengal development minister Gautam Deb has invited the Parishad for a meeting at Writers’ Buildings in Calcutta on Saturday. This will be the first formal meeting between the Parishad and the Mamata Banerjee government.

“A 15-member delegation comprising regional and state leaders will head for Calcutta tomorrow. The main item on the agenda is the Morcha’s demand to include the Terai and the Dooars under the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration. We will clarify to the minister why we are against the move and will request him to draft projects for the development of the Terai and the Dooars,” said Tezkumar Toppo, the state secretary of the Parishad.

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