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20% bonus for tea hands

Darjeeling, Sept. 16: The Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) last night agreed to pay the annual bonus at the maximum rate of 20 per cent, but managed to extract a promise from all trade unions that they would ensure each labourer puts in eight hours of work, excluding their lunch time, by September 30.

Bonus percentage is calculated on the total annual earnings of a worker and 20 per cent is the highest rate permissible under the Plantation Labour Act, 1951. The act also says that planters cannot fix the bonus at a rate less than 8.33 per cent.

The DTA has 63 tea estates and it had paid 20 per cent bonus in 2011 also. But this year, bonus ceiling was raised from Rs 9,000 to Rs 10,000, that means even if 20 per cent bonus works out to Rs 12,000, for a worker, he will get only Rs 10,000.

The bonus agreement was signed at a meeting between representatives of the DTA and tea garden unions of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, CPRM, CPM and the Congress last night.

Sandeep Mukherjee, the principal advisor to the DTA, said the bonus would be disbursed by October 6.

The DTA gardens are categorised as Grades A, B, C and D, depending on production and other yardsticks. The number of estates under Grade A are 12, and under Grades B, C and D are 15, 16 and 17 respectively. All garden workers will get bonus at the same rate, irrespective of the garden’s grade.The Darjeeling tea industry employs around 55,000 people. Although some hill gardens are under the Indian Tea Association, it generally follows the bonus rate fixed by the DTA.

The DTA had said on August 26 that it wouldn’t be able to pay the bonus at 20 per cent as production had come down and absenteeism was still high.

But Mukherjee today said: “In an effort to maintain a cordial atmosphere in the gardens, we decided to match last year’s rate.”

In lieu of the bonus pay at the highest rate, the unions gave an undertaking that the work hours would be increased from seven to eight by September 30.

Even though the labour wings had agreed to eight hours of work at a meeting on January 21, the Darjeeling-Terai-Dooars Chai Kaman Mazdur Union of the CPRM backtracked later, rendering the deal redundant.

The January 21 agreement read: “A worker would be working for eight hours in a day for the day’s wage and the lunch break would not be included in the working hours throughout the year.”

K.B. Subba, the general secretary of the CPRM union, while pulling out of the agreement said: “We discussed the deal with party colleagues and decided to oppose the deviation from the practice of including the one-hour lunch break in the total time of daily work.”

However, Subba sang a different tune today. “It is true that labourers have to put in eight hours of work. Earlier, there was some confusion. The (Plantation Labour) Act says the workers will have to put that (eight) many hours of work.”

The DTA said the unions had also agreed to help garden owners streamline sub-staff as many estates employees in a particular department and also to do away with various “traditional practices”, on a case to case basis.

“By traditional practice, we mean if a worker is entitled to nine maund of firewood (one maund is approximately 40kg) according to the act, there are gardens which have been giving more firewood. But now these gardens cannot scale down the amount. We want the unions to help us in such cases, to which they have agreed,” said Mukherjee.