Darjeeling, May 2: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president, Bimal Gurung, has demanded a hike in the daily wage of tea garden workers in north Bengal from the existing Rs 90-95 to Rs 322 and the formation of a separate Union ministry for the tea industry among others.
In January, a conglomeration of tea garden unions, including that of the Morcha, had sought Rs 322 as the daily wage, citing the rise in the prices of essential commodities.
Gurung sought more than three-times hike, made through a Facebook post to mark May Day, “to enable our brothers and sisters working in the tea gardens to live a dignified life”.
Gurung made five demands concerning the tea industry.
“On this day, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha demands the following: 1. A hike in wages for the tea garden workers from Rs 95 to Rs 322 per day to enable our brothers and sisters working in the tea gardens to live a dignified life. 2. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha also demands a separate Ministry for the tea industry by the Government of India,” reads Gurung’s post.
The Rs 95 that Gurung is referring to is for workers in the Dooars tea gardens. In the Darjeeling hills, a labourer gets a daily wage of Rs 90.
In 2011, the Darjeeling tea industry managed the biggest hike in its history as the wages were raised from Rs 68 to Rs 90 for three years at one go. For workers in the Dooars, the pay was increased in phases, touching the Rs 95 mark in the third year.
A revision in the wages in north Bengal for a period of three years from 2014 was to have come into effect on April 1.
Sources in the Morcha claimed that Gurung had sought Rs 322 after comparing the wages of workers in coffee plantations in other states. “The daily wage in coffee plantations in South India is more than Rs 250,” said a Morcha leader.
Although negotiations to strike a new wage deal between planters and trade unions have started, a consensus is yet to be reached at.
“Two rounds of talks have already been held in Siliguri. The meetings were chaired by labour commissioner Javed Akthar. The third round of talks is scheduled for June and will most probably be held in Darjeeling,” said a source in the tea industry.
However, the planters’ associations refused to react to Gurung’s demand for the triple hike.
With regard to Gurung’s demand for a separate central ministry for the tea industry, the Morcha sources said: “The BJP has informally agreed to set up a separate ministry for the tea industry if voted to power. Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, has already been briefed on this demand,” said a Morcha source.
At present, the tea sector is under the Union commerce and industry ministry.
The other three demands by Gurung are “3. Maternity benefits for all women tea workers, setting up of special committee for the safety of Women and Children in all the gardens, crèche, shade and toilet facilities, pensions and Medical Insurance. 4. Revision of the outdated Plantation Labour Act 1951. 5. Land Rights for tea garden workers…”
The CPM candidate for Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat, Saman Pathak, today welcomed Gurung’s demand for Rs 322 as the daily wage. “The CPM has thought of demanding at least Rs 285. Gurung’s demand for Rs 322 should be welcomed.”