Tea unions in the hills have demanded that garden managements disburse the remaining 8 per cent of the bonus to the workers by December this year.
“We have always demanded that bonus at the rate of 20 per cent should be paid in one go. However, we relied on state labour minister (Moloy Ghatak) who was present at the tripartite meeting held on Friday and agreed to accept the bonus in two parts. But tea planters should ensure that the remaining portion of the bonus, that is, 8 per cent, is paid to the workers by December 31 this year,” said Saman Pathak, the Darjeeling district Citu secretary.
On October 11, when the tripartite meeting on the hill bonus was held in Calcutta, it was decided that the planters will pay 20 per cent of a worker’s annual earnings. It was agreed that 12 per cent will be paid within the next 10 days, that is by October 21, and another tripartite meeting would be convened in November to finalise the date of the next payment.
Representatives of Himalayan Plantation Workers’ Union (HPWU), the trade union wing of GNLF, spoke along similar lines.
According to them, the planters might ask for more time to pay the remaining bonus by highlighting the lean season.
“We apprehend that they might refer to the lean season and propose a date of the next calendar year or even the next financial year. That is why we have decided that at the tripartite talks scheduled in November, we will make it clear that this money should be paid by this year and there should not be any further delay,” said Mahendra Chhetri, the GNLF general secretary who is also the vice-president of the plantation workers’ union.
In Bengal’s tea industry, the lean season — when there is no production of tea — commences from the end of December and continues till March.
The latest demand by the unions — which joined hands over the bonus demand and launched protests that continued till last Friday — left a section of the planters concerned.
According to them, the industry is yet to recover from the losses of 2017-18 due to the statehood agitation. Also, in the past three-four weeks, the industry has suffered fresh losses as the workers had resorted to go-slow and had stopped dispatch of teas from the gardens as a part of their protests over the bonus demand.
“The unions should act rationally and refrain from any pressure tactics. The gardens are under financial stress and some might not be able to sustain additional pressure,” said a source.