The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Key role for tea women

Siliguri, June 8: An international workers’ forum has suggested a more active role for women leaders to end the problems in the closed tea estates of the Dooars.

Representatives of IUF met trade union leaders from the brew belt in Calcutta last week to discuss the situation in the closed gardens. The Geneva-based International Union of Food, Agriculture, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco, Plantation and Allied Workers’ Associations works to unite food, farm and hotel workers worldwide.

“We want to take a fresh approach to try and end the workers’ problems. This includes empowerment of women who form more than 80 per cent of the total workforce,” Sujata Gothoskar, the agriculture and plantation coordinator of IUF in India, said over phone from Mumbai.

Describing women as “more sensitive” than men, Gothoskar said: “If they are made leaders or office bearers in trade unions, they will be more effective in organising movements on issues affecting their daily lives, like workload, occupational safety, malnutrition, drinking water supply and medical facilities.”

Su Long Ley, the international coordinator of agriculture and plantation at IUF, and Jasper Goss, the information officer for IUF in the Asia-Pacific region, were present at the meeting in Calcutta.

“We also discussed the need to raise the issue at international platforms like the ILO,” Gothoskar said.

Chitta Dey, the convener of the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers who attended the meeting, made a strong case for the formation of workers’ cooperatives to restart the closed gardens.

In December 2003, Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samiti, an IUF-affiliate, and the international union had conducted a survey on health, food, drinking water and living quarters of workers in the tea gardens of north Bengal and found the situation alarming.

Anuradha Talwar, a member of the samiti and an adviser to the food commissioners of the Supreme Court, had submitted the report to the apex legal body, which asked the Bengal government to respond within 10 days and take appropriate action.

In response, the state government intensified the promotion of welfare schemes and provision of medical facilities in the gardens and included every workers’ family in the BPL category.

Gothoskar said another survey might be conducted to find out the current situation in the Dooars gardens.

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