Wage hike protest stalls garden work
Guwahati: Work in tea gardens across Assam was affected on Monday as a students' organisation representing workers forcefully closed them for the day, seeking a hike in daily wages.
The All Adivasi Students' Association of Assam (AASAA) demanded the daily wage of the tea garden workers to be increased to Rs 351 from Rs 137.
The organisation said the garden workers should have enjoyed a revised daily wage from January this year. "The period of the earlier agreement between the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) and the garden workers got over in December," said the organisation's general secretary Deben Orang.
The minimum wage had been fixed for years by the ACMS and garden owners together. The students' organisation alleged that the ACMS acts on behalf of tea garden owners and hence they agree to keep the daily wage of workers low.
A state government-formed advisory board on minimum wage of garden workers in March had agreed that the minimum wage should be Rs 351, including cash and kind components. The advisory board is headed by labour and tea tribes welfare minister Pallab Lochan Das, who himself belongs to the tea garden community.
According to the estate owners, the minimum wage of Rs 351 will hit the industry hard and increase the production cost. Following Assam governor Jagdish Mukhi's order, the tea garden authorities have been paying Rs 30 per day per worker as an "interim enhancement" since March till a revised wage is fixed.
The organisation said it was not happy with the interim enhancement. "We demand a revised salary, not interim enhancement," Orang said.
The Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, a peasant rights group, supported the agitation of the students' body. "Their demand is just," a KMSS statement said.
Nepul Saikia, the chairman of the North Eastern Tea Association (Neta), based in Golaghat, on Monday said the industry would have a slow and painful death if the bandh menace was not stopped. "Calling of frequent bandhs and causing direct economic loss to the workforce and the managements of the tea industry is unacceptable. Some forces are hell bent on destroying the tea industry. The tea industry is sure to have a slow and painful death if this menace is not stopped," he said.
"We appeal to all organisations to consider tea gardens under essential commodities and keep them out of the purview of the bandh," said Bidyananda Barkakoty, the adviser to the association.
Additional reporting by Roopak Goswami in Guwahati