The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tea talks fail to take off, again

Siliguri, Nov. 29: Another attempt to iron out the problems leading to the closure of three major tea gardens, this time with the participation of the management, failed as the union members shot down the conditions set for reopening the estates.

The tripartite meeting, presided over by Siliguri joint labour commissioner Shibnath Roy, saw the management top brass and union representatives slinging charges at each other.

Efforts made by state labour minister Mohammed Amin to reopen a large number of gardens failed as the management of most gardens stayed away from the meeting summoned by him on Monday.

A lock-out was declared in the Dima, Kalachini and Raimatang tea estates owned by Buxa Dooars Tea Company Limited on October 30 after labourers held demonstrations against non-payment of wages, ration and provident fund dues.

While Dima Tea Estate has a total workforce of 1,925, Kalchini and the Raimatang gardens employ 1,703 and 1,233 workers, respectively.

The management has submitted a “minimum-requirement list” to the joint labour commissioner, demanding that the conditions have to be “honoured” in case the gardens were reopened. The management reasoned that since the number of “sub-staffers” — labourers who are paid wages on a monthly basis — had reached 300, no more recruitment should be made in this category until further notice.

Added to this, the management voiced the need to revert sub-staffers to “daily labourers”, meant for the ordinary garden workers, to cut down overall cost. “We hardly have any other option but to stop all recruitment,” said Sisir Chanda, chief executive officer of the company.

Trade union representatives have refused to abide by the conditions, terming them “highhanded decisions”. Samir Roy, general secretary of West Bengal Cha Mazdoor Sabha, told The Telegraph: “Announcing a freeze on recruitment is a tactical ploy on the part of the management and a violation of the Plantation Labour Act of 1952.”

Chances of a reaching a solution became dim with the management suggesting that gardens be run three days a week, in batches, till March 2003 to tide over the crisis.

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