Joint Forum, a conglomeration of over 23 trade unions associated with the tea industry, except for the Trinamul Congress-backed tea workers’ unions, has set a deadline of 25 June for the state government to implement the Minimum Wages Act in the tea sector.
Leaders associated with the Forum huddled together on Wednesday and reviewed the post-rural poll situation in the tea belt, and the role of the ruling party and the state election commission during the rural polls.
The leaders will hold another meeting in Siliguri on 29 June to formulate final strategies based on resolutions adopted on Wednesday for carrying out a movement to demand Minimum Wages within 25 June.
The Forum condemned the alleged vote rigging and efforts to bars candidates from filling nomination papers and allegedly depriving tea workers from electing their representatives freely and fairly.
“Workers in the tea belt are virtually upset as their wages have not been settled yet. We have finally decided to give the state government an ultimatum, demanding implementation of the Minimum Wages Act by 25 June,” the convener of the Forum, Zia ul Alam, said.
“We also plan to synchronize the issue with Assam as its advisory committee suggested minimum wages of Rs 351 a day for tea workers there. With our memorandum to the state government, it will get a month’s time for implementing the Act. In the meantime, we would also inform the planters about workers’ demand for minimum wages,” Mr Alam said.
Notably, ahead of the rural polls, the state government has announced an interim wage hike of Rs 17.50 a day for tea workers and payment of interim value of ration of Rs 9 a day.
Despite the decision to increase the tea workers’ wages from Rs 132.50 to Rs 150 a day and additional hike of wages by Rs 9 as the ration component, Trinamul Congress candidates could not perform very well in the rural polls in the tea belt.
Mr Alam, who is also a senior CPI-M leader, said: “There is no Trinamul Congress in the tea belt. Trinamul bagged some seats by rigging votes in some areas and by making payments in closed tea plantations. In Malbazaar subdivision areas, the Trinamul prevented others from filing nomination papers and tea workers could not exercise their franchise and elect their panchayat representatives.”
“Though (Morcha leader) Binoy Tamang campaigned in tea belt, the Bimal Gurungbacked trade union faction, which is associated with the Joint Forum, performed well by beating Trinamul Congress candidates in the tea belt. As a result, the state government is unnerved and is reviewing the rural poll results in the tea belt,” he said, adding, “We expect a change and massive development in the wage structure for tea workers within June and July this year.”
Notably, the Trinamul leadership in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar has described its unexpected results as a conspiracy of the Left leaders in tea belt.