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Threat to halt hill tea pluck

Threat to halt plucking of first flush tea if wages not cleared by March 10

Vivek Chhetri Darjeeling Published 04.03.19, 08:06 PM
Tea garden workers in Darjeeling.

Tea garden workers in Darjeeling. The Telegraph file picture

A conglomeration of over 20 trade unions announced on Monday that if tea planters in the Darjeeling hills didn’t clear wage dues by March 10, workers would stop plucking of leaves from the following day.

The Joint Forum, which doesn’t comprise unions of the Trinamul Congress and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, said workers would also lay siege to the office of the Darjeeling Tea Association here on March 6 to press for the payment of dues.


On February 19, the forum had threatened an agitation in the hills for the immediate payment of the arrears and fixing of minimum wages in the tea sector. The unions had demanded then that gardens producing world famous Darjeeling Tea clear the dues by March 4.

The forum’s threat to stop the plucking from March 11 has come after the Morcha’s trade union said its members would stop the dispatch of tea from over 80 hill gardens from March 7 if the wages were not cleared.

The threats have been issued when plucking of first flush tea — which commands the highest price and most of which is exported — is underway in the hills.

A group of workers led by leaders of the forum reached the DTA office near the Planters’ Club here for the gherao on Monday. As the office was shut on account of Shivaratri, they dispersed without holding the protest.

“We want tea estates to clear the arrears by March 10 or else, workers will not pluck tealeaves from the following day. We had come here to gherao the DTA office but it was closed for Shivaratri. But workers had to attend duties in gardens. The gherao will take place on March 6,” said J.B. Tamang, a convener of the forum.

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.

A garden worker currently earns Rs 176 a day.

According to sources in the industry, around 70 per cent of the 87 tea gardens in the hills are yet to clear the outstanding wages.

Tamang, who is also a GNLF leader, said workers would hold “gate meetings” in all tea gardens from March 7 to 9.

Sandeep Mukherjee, the principal advisor to the DTA, said: “How can trade unions expect gardens to clear dues if they cannot sell tea? We also want to say the DTA office was closed on Monday as it is an old practice to grant holiday on Shivratri. The holidays of officers and workers cannot be compared as norms are different.”

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