Union U-turn on tea hike

Leaders of the Joint Forum - an umbrella body of non-Trinamul tea unions in north Bengal - did a U-turn on Saturday and said they would not oppose an interim hike in tea wages proposed by the state government earlier this week.

By OUR CORRESPONDENT in Siliguri
  • Published 19.08.18
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Siliguri: Leaders of the Joint Forum - an umbrella body of non-Trinamul tea unions in north Bengal - did a U-turn on Saturday and said they would not oppose an interim hike in tea wages proposed by the state government earlier this week.

"It is the right of a worker to receive higher wages. Though the manner in which the interim hikes have been proposed is incorrect, we will not stop the workers from accepting higher wages," said Ziaul Alam, the convenor of the forum.

At a meeting in Siliguri on August 16, state labour minister Moloy Ghatak had proposed an interim hike of Rs 10 and Rs 7 over the existing daily wage of Rs 159 from September and October. If the hikes are implemented, a tea worker will get Rs 176 from October - until the minimum wage is fixed by the state.

The forum had not attended Ghatak's meeting, insisting that the minimum wage be fixed first. It had said that "...announcing some interim (hikes) time and again here and there was not the lawful way of resolving issues".

Planters have expressed their inability to accept the proposed hike, citing losses due to a recent strike and stagnant prices.

On Saturday, forum leaders reiterated that while the "process of proposing the hike is incorrect", they would not ask the workers to turn down the planned increase.

They went to the extent of taking credit for the proposal. "It is due to our consistent movement that the wage rate of tea workers has increased one way or the other. If the proposed hike is implemented, it will further increase the wages," Alam said.

He announced that the forum would attend a meeting on minimum wages in Calcutta on August 23. "We will attend the meeting and discuss the next course of action on August 26," Alam said.

The change of stance and the attempt to take credit is being seen as a move by the forum to keep unions of Trinamul and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha - not constituents of the umbrella group - from launching a counter-campaign.

Most of the forum's constituents are unions backed by the Left, Congress and the BJP.

"On August 16, the forum had strongly criticised the labour minister. These unions do not want to let Trinamul and the Morcha campaign in the tea belt and tell workers that the forum is blocking the hikes," said an observer.