regular-article-logo Thursday, 05 October 2023

Tea garden starts the process of 'to retire' staff and sub-staff over 45 years old

Darjeeling tea estate 'defaulting' on dues, too

Vivek Chhetri Darjeeling Published 08.06.23, 06:06 AM
Representational image

Representational image File picture

A tea garden here has started the process of “to retire” staff and sub-staff over 45 years old in a first-of-its-kind event in the 170-year-old Darjeeling tea industry.

A “memorandum of settlement” was signed by the Darjeeling Tea & Chinchona Association Limited, lessee of Namring tea garden in Teesta Valley, about 45km from Darjeeling, following meetings with tea trade unions of Darjeeling on April 7, 2023.


The agreement has not yet been made public by the trade unions till date. However, sources made available a soft copy of the agreement to The Telegraph on Wednesday.

One of the points in the agreement reads: “A total of 60 staff and sub-staff only as per list submitted to the management during November 2022 as per requirement of this Tea Estate would be retained and the rest would be retired with immediate effect and their terminal dues would be reviewed after 3 months of normal garden functioning. Cut-off age will be 45 years, department-wise, of the resigning staff and sub-staff.”

The tea garden has 1,251 workers, and 162 staff and sub-staff who hold supervisory and clerical posts, among others. Sources said that more than 40 per cent of tea workers do not turn up for work here but almost all the 162 staff and sub-staff come every day.

Of the 162 staff and sub-staff, the garden has decided to retain only 60.

Sources said trouble started brewing in the garden since March 8, 2022, when the garden started defaulting on paying wages.

The April agreement states that the union leaders of Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatrantik Morcha (BGPM), Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and Trinamul Congress were present at the meeting.

“We, however, did not sign the agreement as we were not fully supportive of the retirement clause. Only the garden leaders of the BGPM (the ruling party in the hills) signed the agreement,” alleged Suraj Subba, president of the Morcha-affiliated trade union.

That union leaders agreed to the retrenchment has also surprised several industry insiders.

J.B. Tamang, working president of the BGPM-affiliated trade union, did not take calls from this newspaper.

Contacted, garden manager Mukul Chaudhury said: “We can neither say that the garden is closed nor say it is open as workers have not turned up. Staff and sub-staff are also not reporting for work.”

An industry insider explained the possible reason for the management’s decision. “Since absenteeism among tea garden workers is high here, the attendance of workers is around 55 per cent. As most sub-staff and staff turn up for work every day, the garden didn’t think it feasible to have them around in such large numbers,” said the insider.

In 2022, the garden asked staff and sub-staff if they would opt for voluntary retirement, the source said. “I have information that 78 staff and sub-staff had agreed to it, but with certain post-retirement dues. The management seems to have failed in paying the dues. The retrenchment number has also surpassed 78, leading to this chaos,” added the insider.

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