All seven trade unions in the hills have appealed for a 12-hour “closure” on Friday to put pressure on the Darjeeling Tea industry to reach a bonus agreement.
The hills have not witnessed such a protest since the 104-day shutdown in September 2017. “We are appealing to all shopkeepers not to open their shops from 6am to 6pm on Friday. We also appeal to all transporters to refrain from plying their vehicles,” Suraj Pathak, CPM leader and former Rajya Sabha MP, said on Wednesday.
Although Karuna Gurung, president of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (Binay Tamang camp) union, used the words “appeal for a bandh,” Pathak said they were not using the word “strike, only making an appeal”. “We also appeal to the tea garden workers to take mass leave on Friday,” said Pathak.
Asked about the “strike-free” promise made by the Tamang faction of the Morcha, the party’s trade union president, Karuna Gurung, said the situation was such that “we will answer our party president”.
Six rounds of recent bonus meetings — the last was mediated by the state government between the unions and management — have failed. The managements have so far offered a bonus of 15 per cent of a worker’s annual earnings. The unions, which had earlier asked for 20 per cent but later scaled it down to 19 per cent, have now gone back to their old demand.
Union leaders plan to hold hunger strikes “in front of garden offices” from Thursday. Tamang, the Morcha leader, has announced “an indefinite hunger strike” from October 6 if the bonus issue is not resolved by Friday. The next bonus meeting has been called on October 17, by which time Puja will be over.