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Wage hike cry by hill, plains tea unions

Siliguri, Jan. 8: A conglomeration of tea garden trade unions has demanded that the daily wage of workers be increased from Rs 95 to Rs 322 when the new wage revision comes into effect on April 1.

The reason the unions are citing for the wage raise is the rise in costs of daily commodities.

Tea garden workers in both the Darjeeling hills and the plains get Rs 95 a day at present, according to the agreement reached between trade unions and planters’ organisations in 2011.

The wage agreement is for three years, so the new deal should come into effect on April 1 this year.

Among the unions that have demanded the over-three-fold raise, is the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union, which is affiliated to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, and the Progressive Tea Workers Union of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad.

The Morcha union has units in the 70-odd gardens in the hills.

The Parishad union has units in all the Terai and Dooars gardens. Both unions wield considerable influence among tea workers in their areas.

Representatives of the Terai Indian Planters’ Association, whose members have gardens in the Terai, said they would not speak on the matter now. A representative of the association said the planters also wanted the talks to happen but would wait for the outcome.

The conglomeration, the United Tea Workers Front, which has demanded the wage raise, was formed on December 27. A delegation of the front met state labour minister Purnendu Bose in Calcutta yesterday and demanded that the wage talks be launched soon. An activist associated with the front said Bose had promised talks for the wage revision in March, but the minister could not be contacted over phone today.

Anuradha Talwar, the social worker and representative of the conglomeration, said the demand for the hike in the wage was made because of the rise in prices of essential commodities.

“The principal demand of the front is that workers of the tea industry who are underpaid by planters now should receive wages sufficient to run their families. Considering the prices of essential commodities as on November 2013, we have made a calculation and it has been found that a worker needs to be paid at least Rs 322 a day so that he can run a family of two adults and two children,” she said.

“As the current wage agreement will be valid only till March 31, we want the state government to immediately initiate talks on the revision of pay for the next three years. Only if the talks are launched soon, the labourers can start receiving wages at higher rates from April 1 and it can be ensured that there are no arrears. There were instances of workers being deprived of new wages from the date of the (earlier) revision because of delay in reaching an agreement,” Talwar said.

The conglomeration demanded that negotiations on the wage revision for tea gardens in the GTA area be held in Darjeeling. “Talks on the workers in the Terai and Dooars should be held in Siliguri. In the past, the talks were held in Calcutta. If the talks are shifted to Darjeeling and Siliguri, there would be transparency,” Talwar said.

“The minister has assured us that the state will start talks in March,” she said.

Apart from the Morcha and Parishad unions, the other members of the conglomerate are the Terai Dooars Progressive Plantation Workers Union, West Bengal Tea Labour Union that is affiliated to the CPI-ML, Paschimbanga Khet Mazdoor Samiti and New Trade Union Initiative. These are minor unions.

The Citu, affiliated to the CPM, the Congress’s Intuc and the RSP union are not a part of the conglomeration. Nor are the two Trinamul tea unions.