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Tea unions shoot down Rs 21 raise

Siliguri, June 18: Tripartite talks to raise tea workers’ wages in north Bengal today ended inconclusively after the planters’ body proposed a raise of Rs 21 over three years.

The wage rate, when decided, would be implemented in the Darjeeling hills as well as in plantations in the Terai and the Dooars.

At present, Darjeeling garden workers get Rs 90 a day and the Terai and Dooars hands get Rs 95.

One of the umbrella associations of unions has warned that it would call an industry-wide strike if wages were not raised according to its demand, but there is no unanimity in the strike demand.

Two rounds of tripartite talks were held on February 25 and March 22, but today was the first time the Consultative Committee of Plantation Association — the body of estate owners — proposed a revised wage, a rate which the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union called an “insult to the workers”.

The union is backed by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, the main party in the Darjeeling hills. The Co-ordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers, an umbrella organisation of several garden unions, said it wanted “fair negotiations” and the planters’ proposal was “unacceptable”.

Chitta Dey, the convener of the committee, said: “On June 21 we will hold a meeting in Chulsa (in the Dooars) and might go for an industry-wide strike.” The joint labour commissioner M.D. Rizwan said the next meeting would be held in a fortnight. Today’s meeting at Uttarkanya was attended by state labour commissioner Javed Akhtar.

The new wage rate would be deemed effective from April 1 this year. Arrears would be paid to the workers for the days they did not get the revised wages since April 1.

Different unions have sought different wage rates.

Samir Roy, the convener of the Defence Committee for Plantation Workers’ Rights, one of the several umbrella groups, said it wanted a daily wage of Rs 338 for tea workers.

“The MGNREGA rate in Bengal is Rs 169 for unskilled workers. For skilled workers, it should be double, that is Rs 338 per day. We want wages at the same rate for tea workers,” Roy said.

Aloke Chakraborty, the working president of Trinamul Tea Plantation Workers’ Union, said it wanted the wages to be Rs 206 a day. The Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union has also asked for the same rate.

The minimum wage rate for Bengal is Rs 206.

“We want minimum wages to be paid to tea workers. We have heard that some of the trade unions have threatened to go on strike. We would like to assert that our trade union is against strikes in the industry and would strive to keep the situation normal,” Chakraborty said.

Planters’ representatives cited adverse conditions in the industry for the Rs 21 wage raise over three years. “Our proposal was based on the realistic assessment of the industry. The crops are down because of inclement weather and there has been a rise in the cost of production,” said Prabir Bhattacharjee, secretary general of the Tea Association of India.