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Tea planters warned on Labour Act flout

Siliguri, Feb. 26: State labour minister Purnendu Bose today asked tea estate owners to provide benefits and facilities as stipulated by the Plantation Labour Act to workers or else face legal action.

“It is an open secret that most tea planters are violating provisions of the Plantation Labour Act and not providing benefits to workers. We want to make it clear that the government will not allow such violation of rules and will take legal steps against the planters. We have already served legal notices on some planters for the breach of such clauses,” Bose told journalists after holding a meeting with officials of his department at Uttarkanya here this evening.

“We want to reiterate that other planters who are flouting the rules should refrain from doing so as tea garden workers suffer a lot,” he added.

The Act provides for free housing, power, medicine, drinking water and firewood for workers and transportation for their school-going children. The labour unions have been alleging that most of the tea gardens don’t provide these benefits to the workers.

The planters claim that the total cost of the benefits and the daily pay to the workers together come to more than the minimum wage fixed by the state government.

“We need to bear the cost of housing, health service, transport for schoolchildren and firewood. The industry is overburdened with these expenses and desperately wants the central and state governments to intervene and share the costs,” said a tea planter.

Bose said the government was aware of the backwardness in tea garden areas.

“We are trying to introduce several welfare schemes in rural areas where tea estates are located. The labour department has conducted a comprehensive survey in all 278 tea gardens in north Bengal. It has been found that workers’ condition is deplorable in some gardens because of the management’s refusal to implement the provisions of the Plantation Labour Act,” said the minister.

He said none of the workers of the five state-owned tea estates would lose their jobs. “All of them would be absorbed into other government departments. Some industrial houses have expressed their willingness to take over these estates.”