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Tea directive withdrawn

Guwahati, Sept. 12: The office of the labour commissioner, Assam, has withdrawn its directive to the tea industry to consider the value of foodgrains supplied to workers as part of wages while calculating bonus.

Labour commissioner G.K. Kalita suspended the operation of the communiqué last evening after going through the petitions of the tea industry, which pointed out that the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965 excludes concessional foodgrains. The order of the labour commissioner revealed the petitions of Assam Branch Indian Tea Association (Abita) and Assam Tea Planters’ Association (ATPA).

ATPA said in its petition, “Your interpretation of salary or wage is not compatible with the definition given in the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965 as amended up to date. There are also practical difficulties in following your directive, as the accounting year for 2010 has already been closed in all the tea gardens. Further, tea gardens supply only foodgrains as and when required by the workers and not food as envisaged in the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965.”

Abita said, “The direction, if followed, will have serious implications on the labour-management relationship.” It requested the labour commissioner to interpret “salary” as defined in the act or “refer the matter for adjudication to an appropriate forum having jurisdiction on the dispute”.

“After going through the contents of both the petitions, it is felt expedient to afford the representative employers’ organisations a further opportunity of being heard and the operation of the communication is suspended,” the labour commissioner’s order stated.

Sources expressed surprise that the labour commissioner took two months to understand the issue in the correct perspective.

Abita secretary Dhiraj Kakati told this correspondent, “The labour commissioner, unilaterally and in violation of the powers and duties conferred (upon him) under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 issued a directive on inclusion of the value of concessional foodgrains”.

Dipanjol Deka, secretary of Tea Association of India, said the Akhil Bharatiya Chah Mazdoor Union, which initiated the move by approaching the labour commissioner, is neither recognised by the government nor by the tea associations. “Various unions and political parties want to gain mileage out of the bonus issue. They do not care if, in the process, there is unrest in the gardens. They incite workers for their personal gain.”