The closed Denguajhar tea estate on the first day of the three-day tea strike. Picture by Biplab Basak
Siliguri/Jalpaiguri, Aug. 10: Tea gardens were shut across the Terai and Dooars today as two apex bodies of around 30 trade unions launched a two-day strike to seek a hike in workers’ wages.
The trade unions which are enforcing the shutdown have warned that any settlement reached between the planters and the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad-affiliated labour wing on the wage hike would not be acceptable to them.
The labour minister held talks with the Parishad union in Calcutta yesterday and today to end the impasse prevailing in the tea sector in the plains. But no breakthrough was achieved in the talks
“The strike was peaceful on the first day and workers across the Dooars and Terai have responded to the call. We will observe the strike tomorrow also as tea planters are not ready to come with a formula that is closer to our demand,” said Chitta Dey, the convener of the Co-ordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers.
The unions demanded that the labourers’ daily wages be increased from Rs 67 to Rs 130. But the garden owners rejected the demand outright and said they couldn’t shoulder that much financial burden.
De said a 12-hour general strike would be observed across north Bengal on Friday. “So far, 18 organisations have extended support to the strike on Friday,” he said.
The workers today remained absent from their duties and held demonstrations in support of their demand. They also raised the flags of different trade unions in the gardens.
“All workers joined hands to make the strike a success. If planters are still reluctant to accept our demands, we will have to intensify the movement,” said Gautam Ghosh, the general secretary of the Citu-backed Darjeeling Zilla Chia Kaman Mazdoor Union.
Dey criticised the government for holding parleys with only the Progressive Tea Workers’ Union.
“We have noticed that the state government is holding talks with only one trade union to resolve the issue and has not included any others. At this point, we want to clarify that if any decision is reached through talks with only one union, it will not be binding for us,” said the octogenarian leader.
The Defence Committee for Plantation Workers’ Rights was the other body of trade unions, which called the two-day strike. Its convener Samir Roy also slammed the government for keeping other trade unions out of the negotiation process.
“It has never happened before that only one organisation was invited to wage talks by the government. All trade unions, irrespective of their base in the brew belt, had been included in the negotiation process earlier,” he said. According to him, there are 36 other trade unions, including Citu, Intuc, Utuc and HMS, apart from the PTWU that have a base in north Bengal tea gardens.