Workers gather in front of the garden factory on Monday. Telegraph picture
Alipurduar, Nov. 12: Work was suspended on the Bundapani Tea Estate indefinitely this morning, two days after workers gheraoed the garden manager on Saturday.
The garden with 1,276 workers is in Madarihat block and 80km from here. The workers confined the manager to his chambers from 8am-5pm on Saturday to protest the failure to disburse wages for five fortnights and rations for 19 cycles.
The workers were upset by the suspension of work on the eve of Kali Puja. Labourer Saraswati Chhetri said: “Like any other day, we came to the garden for work today and found the notice declaring suspension of work. We didn’t have any inkling of the suspension. The management has left the garden when a lot of dues are pending.”
The notice read: “… the management is unable to work in the garden with authority as there is no discipline in the garden and the management staff are feeling insecure….”
The labourers said electricity connections to their quarters had been disconnected because of the dues of Rs 6 lakh and Rs 3 crore were yet to be deposited in the provident fund accounts. The manager had agreed to clear the wages for a fortnight by November 7.
But no payment was made and the labourers gheraoed him on the 10th demanding the wages for two fortnights. In Bundapani, wages are paid every fortnight.
The gherao was withdrawn after police reached the spot and the manager assured the workers that wages for two times would be paid today. But before that, work was suspended and the managerial staff left the garden after taking out 3,700kg of tea for auction.
Gopal Prodhan, the vice-president of the Dooars Cha Bagan Workers’ Union, affiliated to the UTUC, blamed the Darjeeling Terai and Dooars Plantation Labour Union (affiliated to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha) for the suspension of work.
“The workers of that union gheraoed the manager illegally on Saturday. This new union doesn’t know the practices of labour wings.”
The Morcha union said the charge was baseless and the workers had every right to launch a protest when the wages were due.
The deputy labour commissioner of Jalpaiguri, Chandan Dasgupta, has convened a meeting of the management and trade unions on November 16 to discuss the reopening of the estate.