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Workers back to plucking leaves

- Cloud of closure brings tea garden hands back to estate, management stays away

Oct. 9: Workers of the Bamandanga-Tondu Tea Estate in the Dooars, where work was suspended yesterday by the management, came to pluck leaves today, probably sensing that a shut tea garden before the Pujas is worse news than getting no bonus.

No one from the management came to the garden. The workers said they had plucked over 14,000kg of leaves, which they assembled at the trough near the garden factory.

“Both Samsing and Bamandanga-Tondu are ailing gardens. Yet, Samsing is paying bonus at 14.5 per cent while we are getting only 10 per cent. Our movement since October 4 was against this disparity,” said Kailash Gope, the secretary of the Bamandanga unit of the Progressive Tea Workers’ Union.

“The management did not turn up today. The plantation is full of leaves ideal for production of quality tea. The management has left 11,000kg of tea leaves in the factory and today we have plucked 14,051kg of leaves. Otherwise, the leaves will overgrow and not yield the best tea after processing,” the trade union leader said. The workers, around 1,100 of them, said they wanted the garden to reopen immediately. “The management should reopen the garden and negotiate with us on the bonus. We have no intention to create any law and order problem,” workers said.

From October 4-7, workers in the two gardens had held dharnas and protests demanding bonus at the rate of 20 per cent of their annual wage.

Today, though, Gope spoke about the disparity between the rates of the two gardens.

The management termed today’s work illegal. “The management holds the right to assign tasks to workers. We have no clue who gave them work today as none from the management was there in the garden,” said Amitangshu Chakraborty, the principal advisor to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association. “The manager has filed a complaint with police, seeking intervention to stop such an illegal practice. We have information that some outsiders have entered the garden and are inciting the workers,” he said.

If the management does not open the garden before the Pujas, the chances of workers getting the bonus becomes bleaker.

Yesterday, in Samsing tea estate a clash was reported among members of the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW), backed by the Congress, and supporters of the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union, the trade union of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.

The clash happened hours after the management announced suspension of work. According to local sources, NUPW supporters held a meeting, advocating payment of bonus at 14.5 per cent, the rate fixed during agreement. But Morcha union workers, who have been demanding bonus at the higher 20 per cent rate, protested. This led to exchange of blows in which one NUPW supporter was injured. Police have arrested three Morcha supporters.