Darjeeling tea planters call meet with unions on Friday
Tea planters in the Darjeeling hills have decided to call a meeting with trade unions here on Friday to discuss wage dues after workers’ bodies announced different modes of agitation for speedy payment of the arrears.
The Darjeeling Tea Association convened the meeting as the agitation is set to take a toll on earnings amidst plucking of first flush leaves — which yield the highest price.
While the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-affiliated Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union had threatened to stop the dispatch of made tea from Thursday, the Joint Forum — a conglomeration of 20-odd unions — had announced a halt to plucking of first flush leaves from March 11.
Members of the forum staged a dharna in front of the DTA office in Darjeeling on Wednesday to press for the payment of the dues.
An official of the DTA said: “We have decided to convene a meeting with unions on March 8. Although many issues concerning fringe benefits of workers were raised, the major issue that would be discussed at the meeting would be wage arrears.”
The unions seemed to have mellowed a bit after the DTA’s decision to hold the meeting.
“We will go ahead with the embargo on the dispatch of made tea from tomorrow (March 7). We are, however, hopeful that the discussion on March 8 will be fruitful. The next course of action will depend on the outcome of the meeting,” said Balam Tamang, the president of the Morcha’s union’s Darjeeling subdivisional committee.
Suraj Pathak, a former CPM Rajya Sabha member and a member of the forum, said: “We organised a dharna in front of the DTA’s office today (Wednesday). We have been told that a meeting will be convened on Friday. We will plan our agitation depending on the outcome of the meeting but we will not do anything that is detrimental to the tea industry.”
Despite the threat to stop the plucking, Pathak’s comment is an indication that the forum will not go for such a harsh measure. The forum, however, said it would hold gate meetings in the gardens on Thursday as per the plan.
The dues have accumulated after the gardens expressed their inability to pay revised pay with effect from January 1, 2018, saying they were still reeling from the statehood agitation of 2017.