Oct. 15: Workers in two Dooars tea gardens have refused to take their Puja bonus, because the management has offered it in installments.
The management of Madhu Tea Estate in Jalpaiguri deserted the garden without putting up any notice, workers of Bandapani, also in the same district, have said they will work during the Puja holidays as a mark of protest.
The management of Madhu garden held a meeting with the trade unions on Saturday.
“The management said they could not pay bonus at the rate of 15 per cent at one go because of paucity of funds. They said they would pay bonus in two equal installments, before Durga Puja and Kali Puja,” said Sunil Lohar, the garden unit secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad-backed Progressive Tea Workers’ Union (PTWU). “It seems that the management abandoned the estate yesterday evening. No notice has reached us as yet.”
C.S. Khati, the block development officer of Kalchini, said: “The management has left Madhu. They have been asked to meet me tomorrow to discuss and resolve the problem.”
Sources said the labour department would take up the issue with the management. “Assistant labour commissioner of Alipurduar is likely to talk to the management on October 17,” said a source.
Garden manager R.A. Pandey said: “We were feeling insecure as despite knowing the problem with funds, the workers were consistently mounting pressure on us. No lockout or suspension of work has been declared in the garden. The workers were not agreeing to listen to our request of accepting bonus in instalments.”
Workers of Bandapani, who had been demanding an immediate payment of bonus at 17 per cent, submitted a letter to garden manager Anil Biswas today stating they would not accept bonus in splits.
“On Saturday, the management issued a notice saying the bonus would be paid in two instalments. We are not ready to accept it. We will work during the Puja. The Puja days are otherwise celebrated as holidays,” said Bablu Minz, the garden unit secretary of the PTWU. “If we are stopped from working during the Pujas, it might lead to law and order problem for which the management would be responsible.”
The management said they needed Rs 50 lakh to pay the bonus to the 1,200-odd workers. “We are suffering from an acute financial crunch. We have decided to pay 60 per cent of the bonus before Durga Puja and the remaining 40 per cent before Kali Puja. The workers are refusing to accept it,” Biswas said.
Workers of Dharanipur, also in the Dooars, have accepted bonus at the rate of 10 per cent. “It is good that the workers have agreed to it. We made the payments today,” said Anupam Roy Choudhury, the garden manager.