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Regular-article-logo Wednesday, 28 February 2024

Demand for 20% tea bonus

'The CCPA has created unnecessary anxiety and tension among the garden workers'

Avik Chakraborty Dibrugarh Published 24.08.19, 07:29 PM
Protesters block NH 37 at Dikom in Assam’s Dibrugarh district on Saturday and burn effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal over low Durga Puja bonus to tea workers.

Protesters block NH 37 at Dikom in Assam’s Dibrugarh district on Saturday and burn effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal over low Durga Puja bonus to tea workers. Picture by UB Photos

Members of the Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association (ATTSA) on Saturday blocked National Highway 37 at Lahowal and Dikom in Upper Assam’s Dibrugarh district demanding 20 per cent Durga Puja bonus for tea workers.

The protesters also burnt the effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal during the hourlong blockade from 11am.

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“We can’t compromise with the Puja bonus because it is an emotional issue for the tea workers. We don’t want any law-and-order problem in the tea garden,” an ATTSA leader said.

The Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations (CCPA), a umbrella organisation of tea producers representing Assam Branch Indian Tea Association (Abita), Assam Tea Planters Association (ATPA), Tea Association of India (TAI), Bharatiya Cha Parishad and North Eastern Tea Association (Neta), had said in Guwahati on Tuesday that they may not be able to pay more than the minimum 8.33 per cent bonus stipulated under the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965.

The statement had drawn sharp criticism from several quarters, including the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS), the largest tea workers’ union of the state. Even BJP Rajya Sabha MP Kamakhya Prasad Tasa had questioned the tea industry’s bonus announcement.

According to the CCPA, tea prices have remained stagnant over the last few years while wages have increased by around 22 per cent last year, aggravating the crisis.

CCPA member Bidyananda Barkakoty, who is also adviser to the North Eastern Tea Association, said that from April to August this year, the average price of tea in auctions was Rs 164.97 per kg compared to Rs 170.70 during the same period last year. On the other hand, the cost of production was almost Rs 200 per kg, resulting in huge losses.

“The CCPA, by announcing its inability to pay 20 per cent bonus, and instead stick to the minimum rate of 8.33 per cent, has created unnecessary anxiety and tension among the garden workers. Puja bonus is a sensitive issue for the workers. Every year, the industry pays the maximum 20 per cent bonus and anything less than that is not acceptable. We don’t want any sort of disturbance due to bonus-related issues. We don’t know the reason behind the announcement of less bonus,” said ATTSA district publicity secretary Lakhindra Kurmi.

This year, Durga Puja begins on October 4 and the tea companies are expected to announce their quantum of bonus by the second week of September. The ACMS has already urged the state government to set up a high-level expert committee to study the crisis faced by the tea industry. It also reiterated payment of maximum Puja bonus.

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