Workers of a closed tea garden in the Dooars received festive bonus from the operating management committee (OMC) that has been partially running the garden since its closure, a rare event in the tea belt.
In all 1,375 workers are employed in the Jateswar division of Birpara tea estate of Alipurduar district. The garden owned by the Duncans Group was abandoned by the management last September.
Jobless workers formed an OMC and decided to pluck and sell tealeaves to other tea estates and bought-leaf factories. The factory stayed shut.
The OMC with all 1,375 workers as members decided each would get Rs 10 against a kilo of tea leaves. Each worker has to pluck at least 18 kilos of tea leaves in a day.
“It was also decided that a worker plucking more will get Rs 5 for each extra kilo. So we could ensure that a worker earns at least Rs 180 a day or more,” said worker Suresh Rai.
“Leaves are sold at Rs 30 to 35 a kilo. This means, around Rs 20 to 25 is saved against each kilo, even after paying the worker his or her wage. Since May this year, even after plantation maintenance and health costs, we could save around Rs 1.40 crore,” said Mahadeo Bagwar, a member of the OMC and panchayat member. The savings prompted OMC members to disburse Rs 1 crore among workers as bonus, the sum calculated on the number of days each worked.
According to Bagwar, permanent workers would get Rs 94 per day as bonus for the days they worked since May this year. The bonus for employees who spray pesticides was fixed at Rs 98 per day and for supervisors Rs 102. “This means, if a worker has served for 100 days in five months, he gets around Rs 10,000 as bonus,” the OMC member said.
A senior trade union leader in Birpara hailed this as a rare instance. “Usually, we hear about funds misappropriation by OMCs in closed gardens. It is really good that this OMC has set an example.”