The state labour department, managements and trade unions of 28 tea gardens on Friday brainstormed on a mechanism to pay tea workers their dues. The department convened a meeting in Jalpaiguri to thrash out the payment method in the 28 gardens in Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri districts.
The meeting followed a Supreme Court order passed on 4 April this year, asking the state to make an interim payment of Rs 15 crore among the tea workers within six months of the date of the order. The estimated pending dues amount to around Rs 30 crore, sources have said.
Around 35,000 workers are entitled to receive their legitimate claims, which are still pending due to several reasons, including closure of tea plantations, it is learnt.
“The labour department has decided to provide a specific format to the managements soon to obtain detailed information on each worker’s payments that include wages, bonus, gratuity and other benefits,” sources said.
In the meeting convened by Pashupati Ghosh, the Advisor to state labour minister Moloy Ghatak, the department sought cooperation from trade unions to implement the Supreme Court order.
The labour department will also publish advertisements in newspapers and other media to inform workers associated with the 28 tea gardens of the developments. “A labourer can demand his/her legitimate claims individually. But the labour department will entertain it only after the management of the tea plantation concerned approves it,” a senior labour department official said.
According to the apex court order, the Central government has informed through an affidavit that Rs 30 crore remains unpaid in 28 tea plantations in West Bengal. The state government has been asked to pay Rs 15 crore to the employees upon verification within 60 days.
“In case workers have died, the amount shall be disbursed to the legal representatives upon verification of their status,” the SC order says. The apex court has also directed that the payment be made in chronological order, that is, those who have retired earlier will be paid before those who have retired later.
“The government shall be entitled to recover those amount form all those employers whose primary duty was to pay the wages, as a revenue demand or any other efficacious manner,” the order says.
The court has also named 28 ‘stressed’ tea estates and several workers in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts. The gardens are Ramjhora, Mujnai, Jaybirpara, Kalchini, Kohinoor, Chinchula (Marico), Birpara, Dumchipara, Carron, Kathalguri, Chamurchi, Shikarpur-Bhandapur, Raipur, Srinathpur, Bamondanga-Tondu, Samsing, Hantapara, Garganda, Demdima, Red Bank, Bundapani, Dheklapara, Madhu, Surendranagar, Kumlai, Dharanipur, Tulsipara and Lankapara.
Notably, a writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court in 2006 and then a contempt petition was filed in 2012 regarding the same. The International Union of Food Agriculture and other organizations had filed the case against the Centre.
“We find that workmen, who worked for about 20 years, have not been paid their wages. Their condition is pitiable and some of them have resorted to commit suicide,” the Supreme Court has said.