The recent demand for parity in wages with that of West Bengal along with rising cost of inputs like coal, oil and electricity will make our task of containing our cost of production even more challenging, said A. Awasthi, chairman of Assam Branch Indian Tea Association, at its 122nd annual general meeting in Tezpur today. The Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha has asked the tea industry to pay labourers wages on a par with those in Bengal to avoid resentment among the workers.
Workers in Assam are paid Rs 71.50 per day while in Bengal they are paid Rs 85, a difference of Rs 13.50. One round of talks has already been held and a few more are to follow.
Cost control continues to be a major concern with labour wages comprising 55 per cent of the total cost of production. Our sustainability in the long run will entirely depend on how we manage labour cost. We also have to bear social costs like housing, health and sanitation. Much has been discussed about the need to address social cost but the government is yet to formalise programmes to assist the industry in mitigating this cost and making our teas competitive in the international market. Other tea producing countries are not burdened with such costs, he said.
Awasthi said the industry has cordial industrial relations with its union friends but faces a harrowing time on a day-to-day basis trying to address the growing absenteeism. Our union friends, although appreciative of the problem, have not been able to mobilise their members. Added to the usual absenteeism is the attraction of NREGA in the neighbourhood which takes away employable workers, he added.
Chairman, Tea Board of India, M.G.V.K. Bhanu spoke on the need to make Indian tea the most preferred beverage in the world and industry must conform to the European Union norms of maximum residue level. He said an orientation programme on quality would be held for small tea growers in April.
Top priority will also be accorded to health and sanitation for workers, he added. Bhanu, the former deputy commissioner of Sonitpur, visited Chitralekha park in Tezpur yesterday. On the need for generic promotion of teas , Bhanu said more funds would be arranged.
Three farmers and four small tea growers were felicitated for their achievements in agriculture production.