Jorhat, April 27: Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha, the largest and oldest body of tea garden workers in the state, has called a strike in 15 gardens of the Assam Tea Corporation Limited next month in support of its various demands.
ACMS general secretary Dileshwar Tanti told The Telegraph from Dibrugarh today that the workers’ union would resort to a statewide agitation after the declaration of poll results on May 16.
The agitation will include a daylong or a two-day strike in the government-owned PSU’s 15 gardens. which are spread across the state.
He said the union would finalise the programme in an executive meeting this week.
Besides resorting to strikes, labourers wearing black badges will also demonstrate in front of the management offices in the gardens as part of the proposed protest.
Tanti, a former Congress MLA, said the decision to organise the protest was taken to draw the government’s attention to the plight of the workers and their families.
There are over 15,000 permanent workers and over 10,000 temporary workers in the ATCL estates.
“We have been asking the government time and again to accord priority to the ATCL gardens, but nothing significant has been done in recent times,” Tanti said.
The general secretary said the government had initiated a series of steps to revive the bankrupt corporation nearly nine years ago, but the efforts have not succeeded in taking forward the PSU, as the initiative was “losing momentum” over the past few years.
He said its major demands are payment of daily wages to the workers of ATCL estates on a par with other gardens and making food ration (rice and atta) available at subsidised rates, as is the practice in other estates.
Its other demands include depositing provident fund (for the workers and management) with the government PF department and paying gratuity to retired garden workers.
Tanti said since January this year, the workers of the tea gardens (barring ATCL estates) were being paid daily wage at the rate of Rs 94 according to the three-year bilateral agreement in place between the tea industry and the union.
However, workers of the PSU-owned gardens were still being paid daily wages at the earlier rate of Rs 84.
Tanti said the gap in the rate of daily wages between ATCL workers and the rest should be done away with immediately and the arrears should be paid soon.
He said about Rs 70 crore is to be deposited with the PF department by the management of the corporation, as it had not deposited the same for over four years and many workers have retired and died without getting the provident fund and gratuity amount.
The corporation, which has been ailing for years and had gone bankrupt around the turn of the century, had a turnover of only Rs 14 crore in 2005 after the government had pumped in money.
The turnover increased to Rs 36 crore in 2009 and crossed Rs 50 crore in 2010. However, the turnover plummeted and reached Rs 48 crore in 2012 because of a number of factors.
The union’s proposed protest bears significance politically as the union, affiliated to Intuc, is close to the Congress and the current leadership comprises Congress leaders from the tea tribes.
DoNER minister Paban Singh Ghatowar, an adviser, had held the post of the president of ACMS for nearly 20 years till he was inducted into the Union cabinet.
Assam deputy Speaker Bhimananda Tanti has replaced Ghatowar as the president.
ACMS has nearly five lakh garden workers, including temporary ones, across the state and has 22 branches.