Darjeeling tea unions threaten stir over arrears, minimum wage
A conglomeration of over 20 trade unions of tea garden workers has threatened an agitation in the Darjeeling hills for immediate payment of arrears and fixing of minimum wages in the sector.
The Joint Forum issued the threat when plucking of first flush tea — which commands the highest price and most of which is exported — began in the hills.
Although the forum doesn’t comprise the unions allegiant to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and the Trinamul Congress, the threat of the agitation could have a bearing on the industry with nearly 70 per cent of the hill people residing in tea gardens and Lok Sabha elections round the corner.
The unions demanded that gardens producing world famous Darjeeling Tea clear wage dues by March 4 and the Bengal government issue a notification fixing minimum pay in the sector.
The wage arrears have accumulated after the hill 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.
The daily wage hike of Rs 17.50 was implemented in the hills only from April 1, 2018. It was agreed that the revised wages of the three months could be paid in instalments later.
J.B. Tamang, the convener of the Joint Forum (hill), said: “Many hill gardens have not cleared the wage arrears of three months. We want the gardens to clear the dues before March 4. We will also write to the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) and assistant labour commissioner on February 25 putting forth our demands.”
A garden worker currently earns Rs 176 a day. An industry insider said around 50 per cent of the hill gardens were yet to clear the wage dues.
Amar Lama of the Jana Andolan Party (JAP), a constituent of the forum, said: “The management is showing no sign of clearing the dues even after a year. As the plucking season has started and elections are due, we hope planters and the government will seriously look into our issues.”
Sources said forum leaders had already finalised the agitation plan and were pondering over a joint movement with trade unions in Assam.
Sandeep Mukherjee, the principal advisor to the DTA, said: “We are looking into the issues.”