| unrest brews
Siliguri/ Islampur, Aug. 5: The North Bengal Small Tea Planters’ Association has asked its member gardens in North Dinajpur to declare a lockout from today after trouble with the workers’ union over wages.
The association, which oversees 120 small tea gardens, said it was driven to take the “extreme measure” following excesses by the West Dinajpur Cha Bagan Sramik Union, affiliated to the Citu, the CPM’s labour arm.
The union, which has been demanding revision of wages for a long time, recently threatened that the workers would take control of the gardens, pluck tea and sell them to bought-leaf factories on their own to protest against the management’s indifference.
The tea planter association secretary, Nitai Mazumder, said today that it was this threat that drove the owners to call the lockout.
“About 75 of our member gardens have already responded to our call for the lockout. By tomorrow, we expect the total number to rise to 100,” he said.
But Subir Biswas, the Citu district secretary, said the owners were exaggerating the figure. “Only about 50 gardens have responded to the lockout call,” he claimed.
“Our wage agreement expired a long time back. All other small growers’ associations have revised the wages for their workers,” Biswas said.
“Only the workers of this association are being underpaid. While workers in other gardens are paid about Rs 50.90 a day, workers in these gardens are paid only Rs 45.90 a day. When other associations have been able to revise the wages, why not the NBSTPA'” he asked.
Biswas said the workers had raised their demands on several occasions, but nothing was done.
“In the past three weeks, they (the owners) have not made any payments or given rations to the workers. Faced with such a situation, we were forced to declare that we would take control of the gardens and run them on our own,” Biswas argued.
Today, the workers staged demonstrations in the gardens protesting against the sudden lockout.
“The step taken by the owners is entirely unethical. They have shut the gardens without prior notice to any authority or the workers,” Biswas said.
Mazumder said the gardens will not open as long as the atmosphere of “healthy co-operation” is not restored.
Biswas, however, said the union will now demand wages under the Gardens Act. “So far, we had agreed to what was negotiated in a bipartite manner. Now, they have to pay us according to the existing rules. If they don’t, we will go on a strike,” he said.