Jorhat, Aug. 17: The Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS), the state’s oldest and largest tea labourers’ body in the state, has set the ball rolling over the bonus issue by sending a letter to major tea planters’ associations of Assam.
The workers’ union has urged the tea industry to initiate the Durga Puja bonus payment process, to be paid at a maximum rate of 20 per cent.
In his letter issued to the five associations, ACMS general secretary Dileshwar Tanti requested that the “quantum of bonus” be announced and paid at least three weeks ahead of Durga Puja.
“Since it is a compulsion on the part of the management to pay bonus before Durga Puja, we, therefore, request you to advice your constituents (member gardens) to declare the quantum of bonus at the earliest and pay the same latest by three weeks before Durga Puja,” the letter stated.
The general secretary requested the tea estates to submit copies of their balance sheets and computation statements for the previous fiscal year (2013-2014), to the Sangha’s central office in Dibrugarh at the earliest.
Taking the “hopes and aspirations” of the workers into consideration, the letter also urged the industry to declare and pay the bonus to the workers at one go rather than in instalments.
Some gardens in the past have paid the bonus in two instalments, with the second one being paid in the month of January the following year or before Holi, which generally falls in the month of March.
Sources said most of the time the gardens did not comply with the request to submit balance sheets, which allowed “outside forces” to take advantage of the situation to fuel unrest among the workers.
Payment of bonus to industrial employees is mandatory under the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965. It says employees earning up to Rs 10,000 per month have to be paid bonus at a minimum rate of 8.33 per cent and maximum of 20 per cent, on the basis of the employers’ earnings the previous fiscal.
Industry sources said about Rs 500 crore is paid by the tea industry to the workers every year as bonus. In 2003, the bonus issue had reached a boiling point, leading to police firing on agitating labourers in Tinsukia district. However, with the fortunes of the tea industry looking up in the past few years, bonus payments have been made smoothly.
Tanti, a former MLA, told The Telegraph that a meeting between representatives of major tea companies and the ACMS is likely to be held at the Sangha’s central office in Dibrugarh next week to discuss the bonus issue.
The proposed discussions will be held to ensure that the process of bonus payment passes off smoothly and peacefully. He said since business in the last fiscal was “not bad”, they wanted the industry to pay maximum bonus.
“We want the estates to pay the bonus three weeks before Puja so that workers could get enough time to do their shopping,” Tanti added.
In the past five years, most of the estates and big companies, including multinational corporations, in Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts, paid bonus at the rate of 20 per cent, while a majority of the state’s gardens paid 17 to 18 per cent bonus.
The Congress-led state government, shaken by the reverses it suffered in the tea belt in the Lok Sabha polls, has proposed several measures to regain their trust. In his budget speech on Monday, chief minister Tarun Gogoi said special attention would be paid to implementation of the welfare measures under Assam Plantation Labour Act including compliance to Minimum Wages Act. A special allocation of Rs 43 crore for advancement of education of tea tribes has also been made.
The three-time chief minister, possibly with an eye on the 2016 Assembly polls, has also proposed to make necessary amendments in the Plantation Development Fund Scheme, 1994, to allow withdrawal of funds from the plantation development fund for meeting the expenditure in regard to construction of workers’ houses.
The ruling Congress suffered in the polls, winning only three of the 13 seats it contested, losing even in bastions such as Dibrugarh, Jorhat and Lakhimpur where tea community voters play a decisive role in the polls.