Representatives of tea planters’ associations and leaders of tea trade unions have started bipartite talks to finalise the bonus rate for workers serving in the tea estates of Terai and Dooars.
While trade unions have demanded a bonus at a minimum rate of 20 per cent of the annual pay — the same rate of bonus paid in the past two years — tea associations have flagged certain issues ranging from wage hike to production loss to advocate a lower rate.
“The first rounds of talks were held yesterday (Tuesday) and the second will be held on Friday. We want tea companies to pay bonus at 20 per cent rate or more. Prices have been steady in auctions and production is at its peak these days. There is no reason why the rate of bonus should be reduced this year,” said Alok Chakraborty, a veteran trade union leader and chairman of Darjeeling (plains) district Trinamul committee.
Like Chakraborty, most other trade unions, including the Joint Forum — an apex body of 26 tea trade unions — have demanded a 20 per cent rate of bonus.
Those representing tea associations, however, said trade unions should refrain from any demand that can affect the sustenance of tea gardens.
According to them, the daily wage rate has been increased from Rs 202 to Rs 232 in June this year.
Prabir Bhattacharjee, the secretary general of the Tea Association of India, said the industry is also bearing extra fuel costs.
Earlier, coal was supplied to tea estates from the Northeast but these past few months, that supply has halted and tea gardens are buying imported coal or getting it from other locations at more than double the earlier cost, he said.
In the north Bengal brew belt, coal is still the principal fuel and it costs around 1.125 kilos of coal to process one kilo of tea.
“Also, in June and July tea production was hit amid inclement weather. Trade unions should understand the situation,” Bhattacharjee said.
Darjeeling planters’ write to Centre
The Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) has sent a letter to Union commerce minister Piyush Goyal, demanding imposition of import duty on any tea that is brought from the neighbouring country of Nepal.
In the letter, the DTA has mentioned that Nepal charges 40 per cent duty if Indian teas are imported to the country. “However, no such duty is charged on Nepal teas. This is leading to indiscriminate influx of such teas into India and is affecting the market of Darjeeling tea industry,” said a representative of the association.