Bengal may set minimum wage for tea garden workers

Decision likely way before Lok Sabha elections, to pre-empt BJP

By Avijit Sinha in Siliguri
  • Published 14.12.18, 3:06 AM
  • Updated 14.12.18, 3:06 AM
  • a min read
  •  
Women plucking tea on a tea estate near Darjeeling. Shutterstock

The Bengal labour department will soon recommend a minimum wage for tea workers, the rush suggesting the Mamata Banerjee government wants to resolve the issue ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

A meeting of the minimum wage advisory board was held in Siliguri on Thursday to discuss issues related to the wage rate. The board comprises labour officials and representatives of planters and unions.

“At the meeting, the (labour) officials made it clear that the board should come up with recommendations. These would be readied in consultation with the planters and the unions,” said a source.

The latest push is seen as a sign that the ruling Trinamul does not want the BJP to make tea wages a plank in the polls next summer.

In BJP-ruled Assam — the largest tea-producing state — the announcement of a new minimum wage is imminent. The current daily wage there is Rs 167. It is Rs 176 in Bengal.

“The daily wage is higher in Bengal than in Assam, but only marginally. However, unlike Bengal, Assam has already proposed a composite daily wage of Rs 351.33 and sought the opinion of planters so it can be finalised. Mamata Banerjee and her party will not want Assam to announce the minimum wage first,” said a senior union leader.

More delays in Bengal might prompt non-Trinamul unions to launch a fresh agitation.

“If the state announces the minimum wage ahead of Assam, it would help Trinamul consolidate support in Bengal’s tea belt and use the issue to campaign against the BJP,” said an observer.

Bengal has at least four Lok Sabha seats where tea workers’ votes are decisive. “We have said the meeting (on minimum wage) should be held by December 21,” said Mani Kumar Darnal, joint general secretary of Intuc-backed National Union of Plantation Workers.

“The unions want a 1:3 ratio (of workers to dependants). We want the number of dependants to be less,” said Prabir Bhattacharjee, secretary-general of the Tea Association of India.