Sarbananda Sonowal and Bandaru Dattatreya in Guwahati on Thursday. Picture by UB Photos
Guwahati, Jan. 5: The Union labour ministry is planning to do away with the British-era "cash and kind" wages for plantation workers and make cash payments mandatory.
"At present, under the Plantation Labour Act, 1951, the wages of plantation workers include cash as well as ration, healthcare and education services among others (as kind). But we will amend the act and make it mandatory to pay the wages in cash only and deposit it in the workers' bank accounts," Union labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya said here after a regional conference of labour ministers and principal secretaries of the eight Northeast states today.
Dattatreya said the proposal was shared with planters, trade unions and government officials of tea-growing states such as Assam, Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala in a tripartite meeting here yesterday. The planters and trade unions have been given two weeks to give their feedback on the move, following which it would be placed before the Union cabinet in Parliament. "We are planning to table it in the budget session of Parliament next month," Dattatreya said.
Both planters as well as tea garden workers' unions in Assam have been demanding the amendment of the Plantation Act, 1951, as some of the provisions in the British-era act had become redundant with the changes in the industry. Planters, on the other hand, sought the amendment as the act says that responsibility of ensuring social security to the workers lies with the planters, thereby putting additional burden on the industry.
"The industry officials told us that they are having additional financial burden, which is affecting their business. Once the act is amended, it will take many such responsibilities off the planters as the workers will be covered under government welfare schemes. The government will be able to construct roads, hospitals, schools, provide drinking water and other benefits within the plantations, many of which are not possible now," said an official of the ministry. The move could affect nearly 20 lakh tea garden workers in Assam.
On being asked about the demand for an increase in minimum wages for tea garden workers, the official said the amount would go up as the amendment would relieve the planters from the responsibility of other benefits.
Hospital upgrade: Dattatreya said the 50-bed ESIC Hospital in Beltola in Guwahati would be upgraded to a 150-bed super-specialty hospital while the 10 ESIC dispensaries across Assam would be upgraded to a six-bed hospital.
The minister also asked all the states of the Northeast to conduct a survey of child labour and register them under the National Child Labour Project.