TMC’s tea trade union in movement mode
Pressures of competitive politics have prompted the Trinamul-backed tea trade union to launch a movement for the first time since the ruling party’s labour wing started its activities in the tea belt to draw the state government's attention to some of the brew belt’s pending issues in north Bengal.
The trigger behind the ruling party-backed trade union's proactive approach is the work of tea trade unions affiliated to other political parties such as the CPM, the Congress, the BJP to voice the demands of tea workers.
Aware that the Joint Forum may get an edge by organising movements, Trinamul-backed tea union leaders said they would draw Nabanna’s attention to the key issues.
“On Tuesday, these unions under the banner of the Joint Forum, held a demonstration in each tea garden of the region and they are all set to intensify their movement... The ruling party's tea trade union cannot sit idle. This is the beauty of competitive politics. And don’t forget, we are heading towards the elections,” said an observer of north Bengal politics.
Among the issues flagged by the Joint Forum, the most prominent is fixing the minimum wage rate for the state’s tea workers, a decision that the Mamata Banerjee government is yet to make.
“The chief minister and the state government have always remained sympathetic towards the tea population and we hope our movement will work and make the state intervene and resolve some of the pertinent issues which can help in socio-economic development of tea workers and their families,” said Mannalal Jain, vice-president of the Inttuc-backed Cha Bagan Trinamul Congress Mazdoor Union.
According to Trinamul insiders, when the Left Front was in power in Bengal, tea trade unions affiliated to CPM and other Left parties steered movements on different issues of tea workers.
Trinamul leaders pointed out that while Mamata Banerjee has done a lot for tea workers, it is necessary in the brew belt to organise movements on pending issues of workers, even if that means raising demands before the state government.
“Such an exercise is necessary to retain support base. Also, Assembly elections are ahead and we have apprehensions that other political parties would use their trade unions to campaign and draw support from tea workers. We cannot simply sit idle. Also, while carrying out our movement, we will also underscore the initiatives taken by the state during the past 10 years for the tea populace, including the housing scheme,” said a trade union leader of Trinamul in the Dooars.
During the past couple of months, the state government has been expediting the implementation of “Cha Sundari,” the scheme under which free houses with land rights will be provided to tea workers. There are clear indications that a section of the workers, including those residing in some closed tea estates, will get the keys of such houses ahead of Assembly elections.
Among other demands which the Trinamul-backed tea trade union plans to raise are increasing the retirement age from 58 to 60 years, revision of wages paid to a worker if he/she plucks extra leaves and payment of provident fund, gratuity and other entitlements pending in some gardens.
Asked about their further plans, Jain said they would meet state labour minister Moloy Ghatak in Calcutta next week for tripartite talks over the charter of demands submitted by the staff and sub-staff of the tea industry.
“We will elaborately discuss the workers’ issues with the minister,” he said.