Hill tea firm pays bonus at one go
The Santosh Kanoria Group, which runs Tindharia and Goomtee tea gardens in Kurseong, has paid workers bonus at the rate of 20 per cent at one go, while a few other estates have decided to follow suit.
The decision comes at a time when a sustained campaign by trade unions is on in the hills against the planters for their unwillingness to pay the bonus at one go. The Darjeeling Tea industry had refused to pay 20 per cent bonus at one go during two rounds of bilateral meetings held between its representatives and trade union leaders early this month.
On September 21, the state government issued an advisory asking the Darjeeling Tea industry to pay the bonus in two instalments of 15 per cent and 5 per cent before Puja and Diwali, respectively.
The unions have been protesting against the decision and demanding payment of bonuses at one go. Moreover, Ajoy Edwards of the Hamro Party started a “BloodTea” hashtag campaign. Sources said Tindharia and Goomtee, paid its 400-odd tea garden workers the entire bonus amount at one go on Friday and Saturday.
The management of at least four more gardens has till now expressed willingness to pay 20 per cent bonus at one go, the source added. The management of Tindharia, however, made it clear that the decision to pay bonus at one go was not a reflection of the financial health of the garden or the industry but was taken for practical reasons.
“The point is none of the gardens can afford to pay 20 per cent bonus. This year, the industry is facing record losses. According to law, bonus has to be disbursed depending on allocable surplus in our balance sheet. But the industry is under pressure from all around,” Anshuman Kanoria, lessee of the garden, said over the phone from Calcutta. The Tindharia management is of the opinion that a three-week gap for the split payment does not help the management much. “Had it been a three-month gap, it would have been of help to a small extent,” said Kanoria.
The tea planter, who is also the chairman of Indian Tea Exporters Association, added that once the bonus is paid absenteeism among workers increases for the next two to three days.
“Since we were directed to pay a 20 percent bonus irrespective of our financial wellbeing, the three-week gap was meaningless and was only going to impact work at the garden, create resentment among workers and not help our cash flow,” said Kanoria, reasoning the decision to pay the bonus at one go.
While Kanoria’s decision is being welcomed by the union leaders, the planter added that it was time for unions and also the government to address real concerns of the industry.
“No union leader wants to address issues like absenteeism, which is as high as 60 percent, and loss in productivity. Every issue of fringe benefit like the value of firewood is attracting protest. It is time to look into whether all benefits should be built into wages,” said Kanoria.
The planter also warned that the Darjeeling tea industry is at the tipping point.
“If we continue to face such arbitrary cost pressures and if core issues of productivity and generic marketing are not addressed, it is a matter of time before more gardens are sold to real estate players, as we are at a tipping point,” said Kanoria.