7-day deadline to chalk out tea wage draft - Minimum pay warning for garden managements

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  • Published 10.09.10

Darjeeling, Sept. 9: The state government has asked tea garden managements to submit within seven days a fresh draft on an interim wage hike after the proposal to pay a one-time “recoverable allowance” of Rs 400 to each worker was summarily rejected by the trade unions.

The CPM-led government, which has its eyes on the Assembly polls next year, also warned the garden managements that failure to draw up the new pay structure for the 3 lakh tea workers in the state would compel it to announce a minimum wage for the sector. Earlier, the planters had said the tea industry was under extreme pressure from the government to accept the workers’ demand for interim wage hike although the agreement on salary expires only next year.

The government set the deadline at a meeting attended by managements and trade unions in Calcutta today. The meeting was chaired by labour minister Anadi Sahu.

Sources said Sahu had proposed that the managements increase the wage to Rs 100 per day from the existing Rs 67. “The management expressed its inability to go in for a wage revision as an earlier settlement is valid till March 31, 2011,” a source said. Instead, the managements proposed to pay a recoverable allowance of Rs 400 to each worker. “Recoverable allowance means that the workers would have to pay back this amount after a mutually accepted date,” said a representative of the planters.

Following the stalemate, the source said, Sahu asked the managements to draw up a fresh proposal on the interim wage revision, failing which the government would start the process of implementing the minimum wage for tea garden workers. “The minister said he would visit Siliguri on September 16 to hold another round of discussions,” said Samir Roy, the convener of the Defence Committee for Plantation Workers’ Right, an umbrella association of labour unions.

“We have demanded that the managements pay a need-based minimum wage along with dearness allowance and variable dearness allowance to the workers. These allowances were there until the Left come into power,” Roy told The Telegraph over the phone from Calcutta.

Need-based minimum wage essentially means a salary structure worked out taking into consideration the All India Consumer Price Index. One of the factors that determine the minimum wage is the amount spent by a worker on food containing 2,700 calories per day.

Trilok Roka, adviser to the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union, an affiliate of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, said: “Whatever decision the state takes, the workers have to get an interim relief to tide over the inflation till the new wage deal is worked out after the expiry of the current agreement on March 31, 2011.”

To implement the minimum wage in tea gardens, the government would have to first come out with a notification, set up a committee that will decide on the wage and get it passed in the Assembly.

In Bengal, the minimum wage varies from Rs 96 per day to Rs 193.50, depending on whether the worker is unskilled, semi-skilled or skilled and the sector he is employed in. Sikkim which has laid down a minimum wage for tea garden workers — the state has only one garden, Temi Tea, owned by the government — pays Rs 100 for unskilled, Rs 115 for semi-skilled, Rs 130 for skilled and Rs 150 for highly skilled workers. The garden owners said the government must, before taking a decision on wage revision, consider the many benefits like housing, medicine and rations that are provided by the industry.

Sandeep Mukherjee, secretary of the Darjeeling Tea Association, said: “The industry cannot afford a wage revision but following the government’s directive we will have to do a rethink.”