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Tea team to tour south, Dooars

Jorhat, Aug. 7: The Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha, the largest and oldest tea workers’ union in the state, will send a five-member team to south Indian states and Bengal to study the wage structure and living conditions of garden workers.

The Sangha, headquartered in Dibrugarh, has nearly five lakh garden workers, including temporary ones across the state and has 22 branches.

General secretary of the Sangha, Dileshwar Tanti, told The Telegraph today that a five-member team (secretaries of different branches) would undertake a “field study” tour of tea estates in Kerala (Munnar region), Tamil Nadu (Coimbatore region) and Dooars in Bengal from August 18.

The team members are Hari Nanda Gourh (Margherita), Rupesh Gourh (Doomdooma), Lakheshwar Tanti (Moran), Nabin Keot (Dibrugarh) and Sumer Singh Gourh (Kamrup).

Tanti, a former MLA, said the team would learn about the wage structure, working and living conditions of tea workers, benefits given to them by the managements and the role of government in addressing their grievances.

He said the team would have interactions with the garden workers’ unions and the estate management in those states to learn about how they deal with each other.

The team will also interact with labour department officials of the states.

Tanti said the team would submit a report to the Sangha central committee after their return on how the gardens were being run with regard to working and living conditions and the role of the managements and respective state governments in looking after the basic interests of the workers.

He said based on the report, the Sangha will prepare a proposal to be given to the tea industry and the Assam government to improve the working as well as living conditions of workers in estates.

Tanti said the visit is expected to help the Sangha in placing the demand and subsequently carrying out discussions with the five tea planters’ associations (estates are members of any of the five such associations) in Assam on the daily wage revision later this year, as the present three-year agreement between the associations and the Sangha expires on December 31 this year.

The present daily wage of tea workers in Assam is Rs 94 and Rs 95 if he/she works continuously for five days in a week. Industry sources said the daily wage in the southern states was over Rs 200 and the living conditions were reportedly better.

But the managements did not have to bear social costs like providing food ration at subsidised rates. However, the daily wage of tea workers in Bengal is almost similar to Assam.

The union’s proposed field study is part of the Sangha’s bid to regain lost ground in the gardens.

The Intuc-affiliated union comprising Congress leaders at the helm and tea tribe leaders at branch levels, came in for a shock when the party put up a dismal show in the tea belt in the Lok Sabha polls, losing all the seats to the BJP.

Former DoNER minister Paban Singh Ghatowar, a Sangha adviser, had held the president’s post for nearly 20 years, till he was inducted into the UPA-II cabinet in 2011. Assam Deputy Speaker Bhimananda Tanti replaced Ghatowar as the Sangha president.

The Sangha, on the other hand, has submitted a memorandum to chief minister Tarun Gogoi on seven demands.