The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tea wage crisis blows over

Dibrugarh, Aug. 28: The fortnight-long wage crisis in Assam’s tea industry today blew over with the Consultative Committee of Planters’ Associations (CCPA) promising to adhere to its July 17 agreement with the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS).

The crisis had been sparked by the CCPA’s decision to delay the implementation of the wage-hike agreement. In a letter to the ACMS, the consultative committee said the industry did not have the resources to increase the daily wage of a permanent worker from Rs 43.05 to Rs 48.50 from September 1. The ACMS then threatened to move court if the CCPA did not effect the hike.

Representatives of both sides met here today to end the conflict, which had led many to believe that gardens across the state would soon have to contend with labour unrest.

ACMS general secretary Madhusudan Khandait told The Telegraph that the CCPA had agreed to honour its commitment, irrespective of the financial situation. “The problems of labourers and planters were thoroughly discussed and both sides decided to co-operate with each other to pull the industry out of the mess it is in.”

The union leader said the ACMS was satisfied with the industry’s assurance and there was no question of raking up the issue again. “Apart from sealing the wage agreement, we held discussions on improving productivity,” he added. Representatives of all member organisations of the CCPA and the circle secretaries of the ACMS attended the crucial meeting, which began at 10 am and continued till 3 pm. PCC president Paban Singh Ghatowar, who heads the ACMS, was present, too.

The state government, which had adopted a wait-and-watch approach, was understandably relieved at the resolution. “Had the CCPA not agreed to honour its commitment, political and social tension would have gripped Assam,” a source said.

Ghatowar had vowed to “oppose the anti-labour moves” of the CCPA. His refusal to compromise made it clear that the industry had no choice but to honour its commitment to the ACMS.

The tea tribes have traditionally supported the Congress and, as a party leader put it, Dispur would have had to ultimately back the ACMS even at the risk of antagonising captains of the industry.

In his letter to the workers’ union, CCPA secretary-general D. Chakrabarti had cited the decline in tea prices at auctions as the main cause of the industry’s woes.

He said tea companies would have to close shop unless the workers co-operated with them in bringing about a revival.

The CCPA planned to begin an awareness campaign among workers, highlighting the constraints under which the industry has been functioning.

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