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Trinamul wing seeks triple rise in tea wage

- Terai Dooars Plantation Workers’ Union cites increase in expenses to demand daily pay of Rs 290

Siliguri, Feb. 3: A trade union of tea garden workers allegiant to the Trinamul Congress has demanded a three-fold rise in daily wage citing an increase in costs to run their families and want bought-leaf factories and small plantations to be brought under wage agreements.

The Terai Dooars Plantation Workers’ Union placed the demand before tea estate owners as the new wage agreement is to come into effect from April 1. The daily wage in the sector now is Rs 95.

In a memorandum submitted to the secretary of the Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations (CCPA), the apex body of tea garden owners in Bengal, the union has demanded that the daily wage be increased to Rs 290, considering the rise in expenses in the workers’ families.

“Less than two months are left for the expiry of a tripartite wage agreement signed in November 2011. We have sent a charter of demands to the CCPA, mentioning that a standard family of four persons, comprising two adults and two minors, needs Rs 290 a day to meet basic demands of food, clothing, electricity, education and others,” said Sandip Nandi, the general secretary of the union.

The last wage deal signed by the state government, planters and trade unions in 2011 brought about a total rise of Rs 28 over three years. The daily wage was increased from Rs 67 to Rs 85 from April 1 in 2012, followed by further hike of Rs 5 each in the following two years.

The United Tea Workers’ Front, a conglomeration of a number of unions, had already demanded that the wage be increased to Rs 322 from Rs 95.

The Co-ordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers, another apex body of unions which includes the CITU and the INTUC, had demanded Rs 285 as the revised daily wage.

The Trinamul-backed trade union raised other demands also. “It is an open secret that a section of tea planters is violating the Plantation Labour Act, 1951, and is not providing benefits like housing, fuel, rations and medical treatment in a proper manner. We also want the retirement age of workers to be increased to 60 from 58,” said Nandi.

The Terai Dooars Plantation Workers’ Union also said the younger generation in tea gardens should be given employment and bought-leaf factories and small tea plantations should be brought under the purview of the wage agreement. As of now, workers of BLFs and small tea plantations are not covered by the wage agreement. Only workers of tea estates are benefited by the wage deal.

Observers say the Trinamul union has sought the steep rise in the wages to win the support of workers, who are a major vote bank in north Bengal, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. In the plains, there is one more union allegiant to Trinamul, that is the Trinamul Tea Plantation Workers’ Union. The bigger force in the tea belt of the Dooars and Terai is the union affiliated to the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad.

Asked about the Trinamul union’s demands, a representatives of the CCPA said: “We have received the demands for wage revision among other things. No decision has been taken so far. We are waiting for the talks to begin on the wage revision.”