ACMS writes to tea growers on bonus

Forum asks for payment in one go instead of instalments before Durga Puja

By Our Correspondent in Jorhat
  • Published 11.08.16
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Workers hold umbrellas as they make their way to pick leaves at a tea garden in Sonitpur district on Tuesday. (AFP)

Jorhat, Aug. 10: The Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS), the oldest and largest tea workers' body in the state, has initiated the process of payment of bonus to workers by writing to five major tea growers' associations.

The organisation has demanded the bonus at the rate of 20 per cent to be paid before Durga puja which commences on October 7.

The five tea growers' groups in the state are constituents of the Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations (CCPA), Assam Valley branch, which is the state unit of the apex tea producers' body of the country. The associations are Assam Tea Planters' Association, Assam Branch Indian Tea Association, North Eastern Tea Association, Tea Association of India and Bharatiya Chah Parishad.

In his letter issued to the associations yesterday, ACMS general secretary Dileshwar Tanti requested that the quantum of bonus be announced and paid at least three weeks ahead of Durga puja to fulfil the "hopes and aspirations" of the workers.

Tanti urged the industry to pay the bonus to workers in one go rather than in instalments. Some gardens in the past have paid the bonus in two instalments, with the second one paid in January the following year or before Holi, which generally falls in March.

Tanti requested the tea gardens to submit copies of their balance sheets and computation statements for the previous fiscal year (2015-2016) to the union's central office in Dibrugarh at the earliest.

Tanti, a former minister in the Congress government, told The Telegraph that paying the bonus three weeks before the Pujas would give "sufficient time" to workers for shopping. He regretted the fact that the number of tea gardens submitting balance sheets to ACMS office was declining over the years as a result of which organisations from "outside" the industry have been trying to take advantage of the situation to fuel unrest among workers.

Payment of bonus to industrial employees is mandatory under the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965. The act says employees earning up to Rs 10,000 per month have to be paid bonus at a minimum rate of 8.33 per cent and a maximum of 20 per cent on the basis of the employers' earnings the previous fiscal.

In 2003, the issue of bonus had reached a boiling point, leading to police firing on agitating labourers in Tinsukia district. However, with the fortunes of the tea industry looking up in the past few years, the payment of bonus has been streamlined. Tanti hoped that the ailing government-owned Assam Tea Corporation Limited (PSU) too would pay bonus to workers at 20 per cent like the previous three years. The government in the past three years had borne the entire expenditure for paying bonus at 20 per cent to the workers of the ailing PSU's 19 gardens across Assam.

The ACMS leader said meeting between representatives of major tea companies is likely to be held at the Sangha's central office in Dibrugarh in the last week of August. A tea association official hoped the matter will be resolved amicably.

In the past five years, most of the estates and big companies, including MNCs, in Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts, paid bonus at the rate of 20 per cent, while a majority of the state's gardens paid 17 to 18 per cent bonus.