The Trinamul state government is ready to implement minimum wage rate for tea workers of north Bengal but can’t proceed without a concrete proposal from trade unions of other political parties and tea planters, state labour minister Moloy Ghatak said here on Thursday.
In 2015, the state formed a committee comprising government officials, representatives of tea planters and tea trade unions to recommend a minimum wage rate for over three lakh workers in the brew belt.
It, however, could not reach a consensus. Thus, no recommendation has been made to the state so far.
“The committee has held at least 18 meetings till now to discuss the issue but representatives of trade unions of Opposition (political parties) and the planters could not come up with a proposal mentioning the wage rate. This is the only reason for the delay in implementation of the minimum wage. If we receive such a proposal, we can implement the rate in 24 hours,” said Ghatak, on a two-day trip here to distribute identity cards among tea workers.
In Bengal, a tea worker receives Rs 232 per day. The last hike was made in June this year, following an announcement by chief minister Mamata Banerjee during her trip to Alipurduar, a tea district of the state.
“When we came to power (in 2011), the daily wage rate was Rs 67. It is through the state government’s pursuance that the wage rate has been revised at regular intervals. This indicates our sincerity in helping tea workers. The central government, on the other hand, has not done anything for them other than making empty promises and elaborate announcements that eventually have stayed unfulfilled,” the minister said.
Senior trade union leaders interpreted Ghatak’s remarks as an attempt to evade responsibility in the wake of upcoming rural elections.
According to them, the issue of minimum wage would come up during the campaign, and hence the ruling party is trying to pass the buck to trade unions of Opposition parties.
In north Bengal, the tea population decides the results of rural polls in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts, and Islampur sub-division of North Dinajpur.
Mani Darnal, the state general secretary of the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW), backed by Congress’s Intuc, said that in 2018, they submitted their recommendations to the state labour department on the minimum wage, which they felt should be fixed on basic components such as food, firewood, clothing and social security,
“The state is now denying its responsibility and passing the buck to the trade unions. This is unacceptable,” said Darnal, also associated with Joint Forum, a common platform of 24 tea trade unions barring Trinamul.
Sources in the industry said the Forum proposed a minimum wage rate of Rs 351 a day. The planters, however, are not ready to accept it.