Claim of bonus pay plan for stressed tea gardens
The Darjeeling Organic Tea Estates Pvt Ltd (DOTEPL) has decided to pay 10 per cent bonus to its workers in the next 48 hours, claimed a senior official of the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA).DOTEPL is the second largest group in the Darjeeling Tea industry but the managers of eight of its 10 gardens had left on the intervening night of Wednesday and Thursday without paying the bonus.
They had left without issuing lockout notices in the plantations.DOTEPL is also a member of the DTA.
“The group will be paying 10 per cent bonus to its workers in the next 48 hours. The workers will be intimated about the payment of the remaining bonus subsequently,” a DTA official told The Telegraph over the phone from Calcutta.
The Darjeeling Tea industry had agreed to pay 20 per cent bonus but in two instalments of 15 per cent and 5 per cent before Puja and Diwali, respectively. However, many gardens also paid the 20 per cent bonus at one go. Hamro Party president Ajoy Edwards has been spearheading a “blood tea” campaign to protest against the planters' refusal to pay the 20 per cent bonus at one.
The DTA official said he had no information about the return of the managers to the eight DOTEPL gardens. “We have been told that the bonus will be credited directly to the workers’ bank account,” said the DTA source.DOTEPL, which is owned by six European investors led by Artava AG of Switzerland, has been in financial stress for the past few years.
On Friday, the Indian Tea Association (ITA) issued a statement expressing its “deep concern” over the “blood tea” campaign. “The Indian Tea Association expresses its deep concern over the ‘Blood Tea’ campaign against the Darjeeling Tea industry by a political entity having interests in the Darjeeling hills,” said Nayantara Palchourdhuri, the chairperson of the ITA.
The ITA said the Darjeeling Tea industry had complied with the state government’s advisory to pay bonus at the rate of 20 per cent in two tranches despite the severe financial crisis. “The acute financial stress and the consequent problem of cash flow notwithstanding, the industry having honoured the government’s advisory to disburse bonus @20% in two installments deserves to be appreciated rather than being maligned for payment in installments,” Nayantara said in a written statement.
The ITA said the financial stress on the Darjeeling Tea industry had been acknowledged by the parliamentary standing committee on commerce which had also recommended a financial relief package for the sector. Edwards’s Hamro Party on Friday held an emergency meeting in Darjeeling.
“We do not wish to harm the industry but a wakeup call needed to be sounded to the businessmen. We were forced to carry out the 'blood tea' campaign as the management was turning a deaf ear to protests through gate meetings and rallies,” said Edwards, adding that the party wanted “a win-win situation for the workers and the management.” The Hamro Party decided to pursue legal action against DOTEPL “either in court or by filing an FIR”.