01 September 2015

Tea Workers Receive Pitiable Wages

The round table meeting on wages in tea sector held at Siliguri on wages in the tea sector organised by Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS) and the Progressive Plantation Workers Union (PPWU) expresses utter concern at the extremely pitiable wages and working conditions of the workers of this sector.

Participants at the meeting included prominent civil society activists like Harsh Mander and Binayak Sen, academicians like Professor Sharit Bhowmik, earlier with Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, and prominent trade unionists like Ashim Roy and the leadership and other members of DTDPLU, PPWU, WBTGEA, NBTPEU, PBKMS and others.

It was noted that despite growing domestic demand for tea backed up with rising prices, the employers’ stubborn refusal to pay decent wages is bring this labour intensive industry to a grave crisis. It is strange to note that in spite of lower productivity and product prices, wages in South India are much higher, ranging from Rs.206 to Rs.254. However, wages in North India, with higher productivity and tea prices has only a wage of Rs.158 (proposed in West Bengal) and Rs.177 (Assam’s draft notification).

The meeting discussed other factors degrading workers like rampant violations of the Plantation Labour Act, productivity linked wages, the setting of arbitrary tasks, incentives and disincentives and how these were making it almost impossible for many workers to earn even the industry level wage fixed by collective bargaining.

Another issue that was touched upon was that of the expansion of small growers and bought leaf factories and the absence of any kind of regulatory framework for workers in such units. The adverse impact of small growers on prices as well as quality of tea, and subsequently the impact on workers’ wages were noted.

The issue of Duncans management jeopardising the lives of 74,190 people who were living in the gardens, including the families of 18,323 workers was noted with serious apprehension. The State Government was however equally to blame for turning a blind eye to the rapidly deteriorating situation in these gardens and for not taking steps against the management. It was clear that starvation was setting in, in these gardens.

The meeting decided to put forward a common consensus letter to the State Government critiquing their draft of Rs. 158 as minimum wages. It was also decided to seek amendments to the Plantation Labour Act in at the national level. More locally, leadership training programmes for garden level leadership on the issue of wages have been planned. An intensive study of the task-productivity-incentive system has also been planned to critique the same and come up with alternatives.

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, 1 Shibtala Road, Vill Maheswarpur, Badu, Kolkata
Progressive Plantation Workers Union, PO Nagrakata, PS Nagrakata, Dist, Jalpaiguri

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