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Hill tea puja bonus row: Trade unions to write to CM

The trade unions are demanding 20 percent bonus in one installment without any categorization, and bonus for staff and sub-staff at a ceiling of Rs 15,500. The tea garden managements have not agreed on this.

Statesman News Service | Darjeeling |

Trade unions in the Hills have decided to write to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee against the suggestion of the state government for tea gardens to pay the yearly Puja bonus in two installments of 15 percent and 5 percent each.

After another round of meeting to settle the bonus dispute ended inconclusively in Siliguri yesterday, the trade unions today held a meeting in Darjeeling. “We stand by our demand that the Puja bonus should be paid at one go. The government has only advised that the bonus be given in two installments and our signatures are still pending,” Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha trade union president Suraj Subba said today.

The trade unions are demanding 20 percent bonus in one installment without any categorization, and bonus for staff and sub-staff at a ceiling of Rs 15,500. The tea garden managements have not agreed on this.

Following the stalemate in the third meeting yesterday, the Minister of State for Labour Department, through the Additional Labour Commissioner, NB Zone, had put forward some suggestions. Among them was the provision to have the bonus of 20 percent paid in two installments, with the first one of 15 percent to be paid within 4 October and the remaining 5 percent to be paid within 30 October.

“We will again have a meeting of trade unions on 1 October, as today, only seven unions out of the eight in total were present in the meeting, after which we will announce our future course of action,” said Mr Subba.

The trade unions were, however, found criticizing the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) for all this. CPRM trade union leader Sunil Rai said, “The government was forced to do this due to the stalemate between the trade unions and the DTA. With there being no proper government Act to oversee all this, we have to follow the DTA rules. Negotiations for puja bonus used to happen between us earlier, but now they are also including the government.
This is their conspiracy to remove trade unions.”

“We are against the installments as earlier too this had happened and some tea gardens have not yet paid the second installment,” he added. Meanwhile, Darjeeling MP Raju Bista today appealed to planters and tea garden owners to pay the bonus as demanded by workers.

Highlighting Darjeeling tea for its quality, fragrance and taste all over the world, Mr Bista said: “I, therefore, appeal to the tea planters and tea garden owners to kindly accede to the demands of timely bonus payment as requested by the workers.”

Terming Darjeeling tea as “Champagne of Teas”, he said: “The tea garden workers work shoulder to shoulder with the tea garden owners to make this happen. The tea industry is the largest employment generator in our Darjeeling Hills, Terai and Dooars region.”

“Last year, despite Covid pandemic shutting down most of the world, the tea industry has shown a positive gesture by giving an appropriate bonus,” Mr Bista said, adding, “Tea garden owners in the plains have already agreed to bonus payment in one lot. I don’t think it would be appropriate to give bonus in instalments.”

“I appeal to the tea garden owners to help bring festive cheer and happiness among all the workers and their family members by paying the workers bonus on time and in one go,” the MP said.