There is good news for tea workers in north Bengal ahead of the Bengali and Nepali New Year. Minister in Charge of Labour Department Moloy Ghatak today announced an “interim relief” for the workers with a hike of Rs 18 in their daily wages. Tea workers will now be given Rs 250 a day, as against the Rs 232 the daily rated workers had been drawing. Minister Ghatak said the state government will issue a notification to this effect soon.
Though the date of the new wages coming into effect has not yet been finalised, a majority of trade union leaders, who were present in a Tripartite Meeting convened by Mr Ghatak at the State Guest House here today, said that the minister had taken such a decision by keeping an eye on the upcoming panchayat elections in the tea areas.
Asked to comment, Minister Ghatak said: “Since Minimum Wages for tea workers has not yet been settled despite a series of meetings of its advisory committee, we have decided to give interim relief to the tea workers as there was no wage increment for the min the last one year.”
“Trade unions proposed hiking the wages with effect from January this year, but the planters have proposed it from June. We will finalise it after taking planters into confidence so that tea workers can get their daily rated wages of Rs 250 a day,” he added.
Significantly, both planters and anti-Trinamool trade unions have denied that they proposed any date of its effect. Speaking to this correspondent, the Labour Minister also said: “It was discussed that the Minimum Wage Advisory Committee would hold another meeting. The matter is undecided as both the planters and trade unions have failed to draw a conclusion. If the matter is settled, the government will issue a notification within 24 hours.”
Asked to comment on the fate of Staff and Sub Staff in the gardens, Mr Ghatak said: “We will also consider their plea and will try to hike a certain percentage of their monthly rated salary. ”
Mr Ghatak had to face a chaotic situation in the second half of the meeting today, whenever he proposed for interim relief of Rs 18 a day for tea workers.
A group of trade unions belonging to the anti Trinamool camp, protested and raised the issue of implementation of the Minimum Wages Act in tea gardens, as they said it was settled in the last Minimum Wage Advisory Committee meeting held in the Dooars under the leadership of the then Lobour Minister Becharam Manna.
Speaking to reporters, spokesperson of the Joint Forum Ziaul Alam said: “The Bengal government has politicised the tea industry, helping tea estate owners. Payingno heed to Minimum Wages settlement, the Labour Minister suddenly announced an interim hike of wages with effect from June. This government decides on interim wage hike whenever elections are around. The West Bengal government should immediately issue a notification on Minimum Wages as other state governments have done.”
“Today’s meeting was meant to loot the land of tea plantations in the name tea tourism and there was no discussion on the settlement ofl and rights for tea workers, at a time when the government has started resumption of lease hold land,” Mr Alam said.
Asked to comment, Secretary of the Tea Association of India, North Bengal region, Sumit Ghosh, said: “We always honor the decision of the state government. But practically, we are overburdened, and sometimes have no capacity to accept all the demands.”