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Higher bonus hope in estates

- Tea firms wary of Dispur directive

Guwahati, Sept. 11: Durga Puja could bring cheer to tea workers in Assam with Dispur asking tea companies to consider the value of foodgrains supplied to the workers as a part of wage while calculating bonus.

Till now, bonus was calculated on the wage paid to a worker, excluding the value of foodgrains provided to them by the companies at a discount.

Tea companies pay anything between 8.33 per cent and 20 per cent of the wage (excluding value of foodgrains) as bonus. The state labour and employment department has now asked the tea companies to include the monetary value of the foodgrains supplied to the workers in the wage and calculate the bonus on the total amount.

Assam labour commissioner G.K. Kalita, in an official communiqué issued recently, has clearly stated that “according to Section 2(21) of the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965, the concessional foodgrains supplied to the plantation workers is also a part of the wage/salary”.

Copies of the letter were also sent to the secretaries of Assam Branch Indian Tea Association, Tea Association of India (TAI), Assam Tea Planters Association, Northeastern Tea Association and Assam Small Tea Growers’ Association, among others.

In the communiqué, the labour commissioner mentioned that several notices had been sent to the tea companies to take part in a joint discussion on the issue but nobody from the management of tea companies turned up.

The labour commissioner requested the tea companies to calculate bonus payable for the fiscal 2010-11 afresh by including the monetary value of foodgrains in the wage and also to pay bonus arrears to all the staff and workers of the tea gardens. The tea companies, however, may not abide by the state government’s directive since they are already blaming the “heavy burden of social costs” for hampering the competitiveness of Assam tea in the international market.

Assam tea, which contributes 51 per cent of country’s total tea production and employs about a million people, including casual workers, in over 800 tea gardens spread across the state.

The gardens have to bear huge social costs because of the large workforce engaged in it and paying for the social infrastructure, including subsidised ration, housing, medical and educational expenses.

The tea workers’ associations are, however, not ready the buy such a claim.

Akhil Bharatiya Chah Mazdoor Sangh general secretary Dinesh Nayak said despite the fact that the Payment of Bonus Act clearly states that the subsidised foodgrains supplied to the plantation workers is also a part of the wage/salary, the tea companies have been depriving the workers of their legitimate bonus dues.

“We demand implementation of the official order issued by the labour commissioner,” he said.

Nayak said they would stage a demonstration and take out a procession in tea gardens of the state on September 19 demanding payment of enhanced bonus.