Hundreds of Small Tea Growers have been demanding reasonable price of green tea leaves. Jalpaiguri District Small Tea Growers’ Association (JDSTGA) today served a representation to the Assistant Director of Tea Development, Tea Board, Jalpaiguri region, on this issue.
The 8th tripartite meeting on wage revision for tea workers ended inconclusively at Uttarkanya on Friday. No resolution was also adopted on the issue of traditional ration system, which was stopped after the state started distributing food grains under the National Food Security Act (NFSA). State labour minister Moloy Ghatak said that the next tripartite meeting will be held in the second week of February to discuss interim wages, traditional ration system, and minimum wages for workers.
Though Mr Ghatak requested trade unions to accept the interim relief of Rs 17.50 with effect from 1 January 2018, trade unions belonging to the Joint Forum did not accept the proposal. The Forum announced that hundreds of workers will stage a demonstration on this issue and serve a memorandum to the Commissioner of the Jalpaiguri Division, Barun Ray, at Uttarkanya on 24 January. Trade unions belonging to the Trinamul Congress have accepted the proposal and termed it a positive step. According to Mr Ghatak, the planters have accepted, in principle, the proposal.
Talking to reporters, Mr Ghatak said: “Discussions on the minimum wages are going on. We generally execute a three-year wage agreement for tea workers. The last agreement expired on 31 March 2017. We proposed an interim relief of Rs 17.50 to increase the remuneration from Rs 132.50 to Rs 150 with effect from 1 January 2018.” “We would discuss the traditional ration system and its monetary value which will be added to tea workers’ wages,” he added, adding that the next meeting will be held after the budget session in the Assembly.
Echoing the minister, Trinamul Congress-backed trade union leader Prabhat Mukherjee said: “The state has taken positive steps for interim relief. Planters have also agreed to accept it, while it was also discussed that the planters will start distributing ration whenever distribution under the NFSA stops.” “As the state government’s labour department has expressed the industry’s readiness to abide by the interim hike of Rs 17.50 with effect from 1st January 2018 we urged the government to ensure that the garden management does not face any problem of industrial relations,” said secretary general of the Tea Association of India (TAI), PK Bhattacharya.
“With regard to transfer of value of food grains received under the NFSA, the industry maintained that food grains as a component can only be discussed under the minimum wages advisory committee meetings.” Asked to comment, the spokesperson for the Joint Forum, Ziaul Alam, said: “The state government was trying hard to enforce the interim relief Rs 17.50. We asked the minister why it was not implemented easily despite the government’s order. We informed the state that the interim relief must be uniform and that a decision would be taken unanimously.
Interim relief must be taken into consideration for workers as well as other staff and sub-staffs in tea plantations.” “Secondly, interim relief should be considered for tea workers, who are working in the Terai, Dooars and the Hills. But the garden managements in Darjeeling Hills have not yet agreed to pay the relief,” Mr Alam claimed. “The value of food grains for the traditional ration system, which has been suspended, is yet to be ascertained. We demanded that the management start implementing its traditional ration following the system in Assam,” he said.
Notably, tea workers in Assam and Tripura get both ration from the garden management and under the NFSA. “The BJP-run Assam government and Left-run Tripura government provide 20 kg rice under the NFSA, but the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee- led West Bengal government provides 35 kg rice under the NFSA once a month,” the state labour minister said. Notably, tea workers in Assam and Tripura, belonging to APL (Above the Poverty Line) get rice at the rate of Rs 3, but workers in north Bengal treated as BPL (Below the Poverty Line) get food grains at Rs 2 per kg.