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Amid outcry, tea gardens to begin paying ‘interim’ wages

Statesman News Service | Siliguri |

Amid opposition from the Joint Forum, several tea gardens in north Bengal are set to start paying workers’ wages with the ‘interim hike’ of Rs 17.50 from on Saturday. The hike will be paid with effect from 1 January 2018, and as per the orders issued by the state government on 29 December last year.

The tea garden managements have already issued a general notice to all concerned, including the state labour department and trade unions, regarding this. Notably, the more than 23 trade unions under the Joint Forum have been protesting the government’s decision to hike the tea workers’ wages from Rs 132.50 to Rs 150 as an interim measure, while they have been campaigning in the tea belt, urging workers to not receive the ‘interim’ wages.

Notably, the Forum has also sent a ‘refusal’ letter to the garden managements, criticizing the government’s decision. The Forum has been instead demanding implementation of the Minimum Wages Act-1948 and assessment of the value of traditional ration, which has been suspended since February 2016 following the implementation of the National Food Security Act.

Asked to comment, the chairman of the Bharatiya Tea Workers Union (BTWU), a BJP-backed trade union, John Barla, said: “We have opposed the government’s interim increase that was forced without inking a tripartite agreement. However, it would be difficult for us to bar all the workers from receiving the remuneration in the future.

As a result, we have decided to launch an agitation and continue it if the workers still start receiving the new rates.” “We will approach both the Centre and the state governments to resolve some issues related to tea gardens.

The BTWU has also planned to organize a workshop in the Dooars on the present situation of tea plantations,” said Mr Barla, adding, “The Centre had intervened by taking over some tea plantations, which were not functioning properly.

However, finally the Centre could not execute its plans due to non-cooperation from the state government. Tea workers are suffering due to conflict between the Centre and the state.” A senior BJP leader in Siliguri, Rathindra Bose, said the party plans to constitute a steering committee to keep monitoring the situation in the tea belt and organize a movement to demand workers’ legitimate claims.