At a time when the Trinamul Congress-led state government is trying hard to hike the remuneration of tea workers, sub staff and staff in the region, including the Hills, in its bid to create a strong base in the Darjeeling parliamentary segment ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, a section of planters are allegedly reluctant to carry out the government’s recent instructions.
Following instructions from the Labour Commissioner, Jawaid Akhtar, the Joint Labour Commissioner, North Bengal Zone, Chandan Dasgupta, has called for a tripartite meeting, to especially discuss two matters with two planters’ organizations- the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) and the Darjeeling Indian Tea Association (DITA).
Significantly, the labour department has selected the Kurseong Circuit House in Darjeeling Hills as the venue for the meeting to be held on 26 July. Though a departmental notification in this regard was issued on 19 July and served among 15 trade unions and the DTA and the DITA, and its copy sent to authorities concerned, a senior member of a planters’ group said the meeting is yet to be confirmed.
Asked to comment, Mr Dasgupta said: “There is no question of doubt. A notification has already been served, and the meeting will be held at Kurseong on 26 July.” “I don’t have information on the planters, whether they will approach top state officials to postpone the meeting,” he added.
According to official sources, chief minister Mamata Banerjee as well as top officials of the labour department have received complaints from Hill leaders that several tea workers have not yet received Rs 9 in interim ration value, while the sub-staff and staff have not yet received the new rate of remuneration after the government asked the planters to hike 18 per cent of their salary.
Official sources also said that there was no complaint from the Hills about the interim hike of Rs 17.50, though the labour department does not have exact information on the payment of interim wages in the tea belt.
According to a senior labour department officer, trade unions have not yet listed tea plantations where the workers have not yet received the payments. “But it is true that planters in the Hills are unwilling to make the payment right now and in doing so carry out the government’s orders,” he added.
Political sources said planters will be at an advantageous position due to the disunity among the trade unions in the Hills after the change in the leadership of the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM) led by Binoy Tamang, who is presently close to the chief minister.
The leadership of the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantations Labour Union (DTDPLU) is also divided on the issue of agitation under the banner of the Joint Forum.
Besides the DTDPLU, there are three other active trade unions, the ones backed by the GNLF, CPRM and the JAP, and they are working under the banner of the JF, a conglomeration of over 23 trade unions in the tea industry in north Bengal.
JF leaders are trying to take all trade unions in the Hills, including the Morcha’s DTDPLU, which was one of the main constituents, into confidence in demanding minimum wages.
State labour department officials, who are associated with the Minimum Wage Advisory Committee (MWAC), are updating a draft proposal for revision of minimum wages payable to employees in tea plantations based on consumer price index of six months since October 2017 to March 2018, it is learnt.