Joint Forum, a conglomeration of around 28 trade unions working in the tea sector, has sought the intervention of chief minister Mamata Banerjee to discuss the “growing plight” of tea workers and minimum wages for them.

The Forum said they had to take such a step as, according to them, nothing has happened on the fixation and enforcement of the Minimum Wages Act in the tea sector even after seven months of the “final round meeting” of the Minimum Wages Advisory Committee, which was held in December last year.

Also expressing concern over the Centre’s decision to impose a 2 per cent TDS (tax deduction at source) on cash withdrawals exceeding Rs 1 crore a year, the Forum demanded exemption of the tea sector from such a tax.

Forum leaders argued that more branches of banks should be opened in the gardens and proper network connectivity ensured in the plantation areas. The Forum has also written to Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on the matter, forum leaders said after a meeting they held here today.

“Around 4.5 lakh tea workers have been facing severe distress due to the prolonged negligence, while the situation has deteriorated. Twenty-four tea plantations are closed, and we are surprised that seven months have gone by since the meeting of the Minimum Wages Advisory Committee, and no step has been taken so far. No step has been taken either on the part of the state government or the Centre to reopen the closed plantations,” said the joint convener of the Forum, Ziaur Alam.

“The state government is completely silent on the fixation and enforcement of the Minimum Rates of Wages. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has herself expressed concern over the plight of the tea workers. Under such circumstances, we would like to discuss those issues with her, seeking positive steps to address the problems. The Joint Forum wrote a letter to the chief minister today, seeking an appointment with her,” Mr Alam added.

According to him, they were looking for meaningful talks among stakeholders, including the departments of finance and commerce and industry of the Centre, for bringing about normality in a large number of closed, abandoned and non-functional tea plantations, including those of Duncan Industries Limited and Alchemist Group of Industries, where the lives and livelihood of lakhs of people are at stake.