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Talks on tea wage hike fail
- Planters shoot down demand of Rs 120 a day

Siliguri, July 3: Planters of north Bengal have shot down the trade unions’ demand to raise the minimum daily wage of workers to Rs 120 in the new wage agreement that is yet to be drawn up.

The planters have insisted on a phased hike along the lines of the previous wage agreement, when wages were increased by Rs 8 over three years. The current minimum wage is Rs 53.90 a day.

With the difference of opinion between the planters and the trade unions, the tripartite meeting called at the state labour commissioner’s office in Calcutta on July 1 to revise the wages and salaries of workers and staff employed in the brew belt failed to yield any result.

The previous three-year wage agreement of the tea industry expired on March 31. Since then, the trade unions active in the brew belt have been insisting on a revision of wages and salaries, citing inflation.

The Defence Committee for Plantation Workers’ Rights and Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers — two apex bodies representing trade unions like the Citu, Intuc and the Hind Mazdoor Sabha — had submitted memorandums to the planters, seeking pay hike with effect from April 1.

The Defence Committee insisted on fixing the wages considering legislation like the minimum wages act as well as the amounts paid under the 100 days’ work scheme. The Coordination Committee sought a minimum wage of Rs 120 for a “daily-rated” worker, along with higher salaries for factory workers, sub-staff and other employees.

“It is not feasible for us to pay at such exorbitant rates,” said N.K. Basu, the convener of the state committee of the Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations. “At the last agreement signed in 2005, we had agreed to increase wages by Rs 8 over three years. We are not in much better position now and cannot afford such high rates, especially when the cost of production is on the rise.”

Basu added: “We will prefer to follow the prevalent method of raising wages annually on the basis of an agreement. But the unions refused to budge from their stance, which prompted the labour commissioner to fix July 9 and 10 as the dates for the next two rounds of talks.”

The planters also spelt out the demands they would raise in those meetings.

“The number of sub-staff in tea gardens is abnormally high and needs rationalisation,” a planter said. “Also, working for half-a-day before holidays and some other non-productive practices that are contributing to our losses need to be discussed.”

Trade union leaders, however, said they would stick to their demands.

“Last time, we had negotiated on lower rates because of the ailing condition of the industry,” Samir Roy, the convener of the Defence Committee, said. “Currently, tea is fetching good prices in auctions and supplies are steady. We will not shift from the demands that we placed before the planters.”

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