Jorhat, Aug. 17: The Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha, the state’s oldest and largest tea labourers’ union, has initiated the process of payment of Durga Puja bonus to tea garden workers.
The union has sent a letter to major tea planters’ associations, urging them to pay the bonus to labourers at the maximum rate of 20 per cent. Deputy Speaker of the Assembly Bhimananda Tanti is the president of the union.
After the tea industry was hit badly following a slump in the global market, there had been a reduction of the rate of bonus declared by companies.
In 2003, the issue reached a boiling point, leading to police firing on agitating labourers in Tinsukia district. But with the fortunes of the industry going up in the past few years, bonus payments had gone off smoothly.
In his letter a few days back, union general secretary Dileshwar Tanti requested the quantum of bonus be announced and paid at least three weeks before the commencement of Durga Puja, which starts from October 21.
He requested the tea garden authorities to submit copies of their balance sheets and computation statements for the previous fiscal (2011-2012) to the union’s central office in Dibrugarh by the month-end.
The letter also urged the industry to announce and pay bonus to the workers at one go rather than in instalments.
Union sources said most of the time, the estates did not comply with the request to submit balance sheets, which allowed “forces from outside” to take advantage of the situation to instigate labourers to create unrest.
Payment of bonus to industrial employees is mandatory under the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965, which says employees earning up to Rs 10,000 per month have to be paid bonus at a minimum rate of 8.33 per cent and a maximum of 20 per cent, on the basis of employer’s earnings in the previous fiscal.
Dileshwar, a former MLA, told The Telegraph over phone from Dibrugarh today that a meeting between representatives of major tea companies and office-bearers of the labourers’ union is likely to be held at the union’s office in Dibrugarh in the first week of September.
The meeting is being called to ensure the process of bonus payment passes off peacefully and smoothly, he said.
Dileshwar said since business in the last fiscal was not bad, they wanted the industry to pay the maximum rate of bonus.
“We want the gardens to pay the bonus three weeks before the festival to provide enough time to workers and their families to complete their shopping,” he said.
According to industry sources, the matter should be sorted out amicably, as the industry has been on a revival mode with tea prices going up last year but inconsistent weather was hampering production.
In the past three years, most of the estates and big companies, including multinationals in Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts had paid bonus at the rate of 20 per cent, while a majority of the state’s gardens paid 17 to 18 per cent.
Tea Association of India (Assam branch) secretary J.N. Baruah said copies of the letter have been sent to all its member gardens.