Toughtalk to tea unions

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  • Published 16.01.04

Siliguri, Jan. 16: Categorically denying starvation deaths in the north Bengal tea gardens, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today cautioned representatives of various trade unions that his government would not tolerate a “militant attitude” on the part of the estate labourers.

It was the chief minister’s first meeting with local tea trade unions since the industry slipped into a crisis.

However, Bhattacharjee was prompt to admit that all was not well with the industry on the labour front.

He later told reporters that till date there had been 17 reported deaths in the tea gardens, most of them caused by diarrhoea and malaria. State agriculture minister Kamal Guha had been claiming that several tea garden workers had died due to starvation during the last few months.

Trade unions which took part in the closed-door meeting included the Defence Committee for Plantation Workers’ Rights, West Bengal Cha Sramik Union (WBCSU), West Bengal Cha Mazdoor Sabha (WBCMS), All West Bengal Tea Garden Labourers’ Union (AWBTGLU) and the Co-ordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers (CCTPW).

While discussing the workers’ problems at the Siliguri circuit house this morning, the chief minister pledged that the government would “ensure” that tea garden managers abide by statutory obligations under provisions of the Plantation Labour Act, 1952.

At the same time, he told trade bosses that incidents like Dalgaon should not recur.

Trade union sources said the chief minister had requested them to work towards a “common programme” aimed at resolving garden-specific problems.

Samir Roy, convener of the Defence Committee for Plantation Workers’ Rights, said: “We have told the chief minister to intervene to curtail the role of the labour department in the process of resolving tea disputes. Also, we have requested the chief minister to see to it that the management of some of the tea gardens in the Terai and Dooars does not flout labour laws with impunity.”