06 January 2014

UTWF Press Conference Invitation

The industrial backbone of West Bengal rests on three specific sectors – engineering, jute and tea. The first two sectors are in the doldrums since the last decades for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, the tea industry is among the most profitable and export earning sectors in India. However, it also showcases one of the worst labour conditions in the country. With over a few thousand starvation deaths in the last decade, in West Bengal, tea plantation workers are one of the lowest paid workers in the country. Here, owners reap huge profits at the expense of the basic needs - nutrition, health, education and housing - of the workers and their families.

Systematic ill–payment has trapped workers in the vicious circle of poverty, poor literacy and ill health. Their children also end up in the same ill-paid work as their parents and grandparents.

In West Bengal, wages have been kept at a precariously low level. The last set of agreements, which resulted in wages as low as Rs.80-95 over a three-year period expires on March 31, 2014.  Besides, the owners have been violating the basic provisions of the Plantation Labour Act with impunity. Provisions of crèche, medical facilities, ambulance, and house repair have all become things of the past. Moreover, many tea gardens of the region have also not deposited the provident fund dues of the workers amounting to over Rs. 100 crores while governments have provided full support to the garden owners by being silent onlookers. Even big corporate owners like the Tata, Duncans, Goodricke, Apeejay and others carry on equally deplorable and unfair labour practices.

It is in this context that various unions representing the largest ethnic groups of workers in the industry – Adivasis and Gurkhas - came forward to launch the United Tea Workers Front (UTWF), primarily to raise the issue of a living wages and related matters in the forthcoming wage negotiations in Darjeeling and North Bengal.

UTWF cordially welcomes you to the press conference on the above issues at the Kolkata Press Club on January 8, 2014.

Anuradha Talwar

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