A tripartite meeting to discuss closed tea estates in the region and find ways to open them ended in an inconclusive note today after managerial staff failed to attend the same.
The meeting was convened by the Additional Labour Commissioner, especially with a view to reopening at least two closed tea plantations of a same owner in the Dooars~Kalchini and Raimatang in Alipurduar district.
Significantly, another tripartite meeting, which was scheduled to be held on 13 November at the zonal office to resolve the crisis in the Torsha Tea Estate, which is closed for the past many days, has been postponed after its management intimated the state government about its inability to attend the same.
An observer in the tea industry said that a section of planters are now reluctant to collect green leaves, though the Tea Board has set a cutoff date and asked gardens to stop plucking green leaves after 14 December.
At least 18 Tea Estates are closed in the Terai and the Dooars region presently. Observers in the tea industry apprehend that the management of around 20 to 25 tea plantations may issue a lock-out notice in the coming month.
“Though the management of the Kalchini and Raimatang Tea Estates did not turn up today, it sent a letter to the labour department, putting forth some conditions,” official sources said.
According to the Additional Labour Commissioner, Chandan Dasgupta, the management has informed them that it can reopen the garden only if workers maintain discipline.
“The second condition is very exciting. Pointing out to the financial crisis, the management has informed us that they can reopen the garden, but that they would pay only 60 percent of the wages to the workers till 31 March 2020. The management will pay the arrears later,” said Dasgupta.
“At present, a daily rated worker gets Rs 176 a day, and 60 percent of it means Rs 105.60. This proposal is not acceptable. If it is implemented in any garden, the tea belt will face an alarming situation in the coming days,” he said, adding, “I will report it to my higher authorities.”
Notably, following directions from the Supreme Court, the state government had to pay Rs 1.20 crore among the workers this year and their family members of two gardens, as owners did not pay their dues.
Sources, meanwhile, said the management of the Torsa tea plantation in Alipurduar did not turn up at the labour department today.
It may be noted here that the labour department’s official had called the management of the Torsa plantation separately today to discuss issues before tripartite talks are held.
According to Mr Dasgupta, the management of the Mujnai Tea Estate has also not turned up yet despite several reminders.
Sources said that the labour department has called the management of the Mujnai TE more than five times now. Sources also said that the labour department was in no position to take action against the owners of some tea plantations under Section 12 (4) of the Industrial Disputes Act 1947 and other practical problems.