Tea estate workers in north Bengal have demanded a three-fold hike in the extra leaf price (ELP) that was last fixed around 14 years back.
Trade unions sought the state labour department’s intervention for the revision of the ELP, which is an additional earning for labourers.The minimum quantity of tea leaves a worker has to pluck a day on an estate in north Bengal is 24kg. The quantity is 25kg in some other gardens.
If any labourer picks more than the assigned quantity of leaves, he or she is paid an extra amount for each kilo. The rate is Rs 3 for each kilo if the worker picks additional leaves up to 6kg. If the additional quantity is more than 6kg, the rate is Rs 3.6.Workers usually earn the ELP during the peak season, that is, from April till September, when the yield is higher.
Gopal Pradhan, the president of the Dooars Cha Bagan Workers’ Union, said the ELP was too meagre at present as it had been finalised 14 years back.
“We support the workers’ demand and considering the rise in the cost of essential commodities, the ELP should be at least Rs 10 to Rs 12 per kilo. We also demand that workers who serve in factories or are engaged in spraying (of pesticides) and similar works be provided with an additional amount as the nature of their job is different,” said Pradhan.
He pointed out that when the ELP had been fixed, the daily wage of a tea garden worker was Rs 67. “It is Rs 232 now. In a number of tea gardens, when workers are hired on contract, they are paid Rs 10 per kilo. In many cases, these workers earn more than permanent labourers whose ELP is still Rs 3,” said the trade union leader.
Leaders of the Trinamul Cha Bagan Sramik Union said they were pushing for the revision of the ELP keeping in mind next year’s panchayat elections.In north Bengal, election results in Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Darjeeling districts and a portion of North Dinajpur districts largely depend on the mandate of tea garden workers and their families.
“We have already asked the labour department to hold talks with tea planters’ associations on ELP revision. Our union has also placed a demand that the retirement age in tea gardens be increased to 60 years from 58 years,” said Prakash Chik Baraik, the president of the Alipurduar district committee of Trinamul.Tea planters said the cost of production had already increased because of hike in the workers’ daily wage this year. They pointed out that the price of coal (the principal fuel used in tea gardens) had almost doubled and the bonus rate had been finalised in the plains last week.“Now, the demand for the revised ELP means further addition to the expenses. A number of tea gardens are currently facing financial problems and such a consistent rise in expenditure might pose a challenge to their survival as there has been no major increase in tea prices. The workers and trade union leaders should realise the situation,” said a senior planter based in Siliguri.