Hundreds of tea workers associated with the Glassmore Tea Estate in the Dooars blocked National Highway-31 near Nagrakata in Jalpaiguri on Tuesday after they came to know that the management staff, including the manager, had abandoned the garden on Monday night without prior notice.
The angry workers called off their agitation after more than two hours after administrative officials assured them that they would look into the matter.
A local police officer tactfully managed the irate workers by squatting with them on the road, where they had staged the demonstration, demanding their legitimate claims, including wages, which were pending for over two months.
Official sources said that the management had to leave the garden following workers’ agitation on 18 July as the management had been having problems in paying the due wages.
The sources said the management was in trouble, given the loss of production owing to absenteeism of around 70 per cent workers since the first week of June.
Only around 300 workers had been working out of the over 1200 workers in the Glassmore TE, sources said. “We decided to withdraw the road block after administrative officials assured us that they would inform the appropriate authorities of our plight. Workers and sub-staff have not received their payment for the past two months,” said Chandan Lohar, a permanent guard at the Glassmore Tea Estate.
“The managerial staff, including the manager, left the garden last night without notice,” he added.
However, the Joint General Secretary of the Trinamul Congress-backed Terai Dooars Plantation Workers’ Union (TDPWU) central committee, Manoj Karkidoli, said: “It is true that a majority of the workers were absent. Over 60 per cent of the workers had to take jobs outside for livelihood as the management of Glassmore TE failed to pay them on time.”
“The management had left the garden on 5 June without notice. It came back after eight days. Significantly, workers continued their work and produced 8,000 kg tea in the absence of the management. It is a matter of regret that the management sold off the 8,000 kg tea, but refused to pay workers,” Mr Karkidoli said.
According to him, the management, however, faced problems maintaining the production as more than 60 per cent of the workers started working outside.
“It had been decided earlier that the workers would return soon after they receive their payments outside and resume their duties here. However, the management left the garden without notice. Had the management given wages on time, the workers would have continued their work in the garden here,” Mr Karkidoli further said.
Though Glassmore was identified as a ‘distress’ garden after massive hailstorm, pest attacks and other natural calamities, workers used to get remuneration and bonuses on time. Even the management had started paying Rs 159 a day by adding an interim hike of Rs 17.50 and Rs 9 as ration value.
The management had agreed to pay 19.75 per cent bonus, while 4 per cent of the same is still due, sources said. Asked to comment, the manager, KK Tiwari, said: “Production was going down gradually due to absenteeism. Despite this, we settled the matter after taking it up with my higher authorities. But hundreds of workers gheraoed me on 18 July and asked me to make immediate payment or step down from my post.”
“I tendered my resignation and left the garden by informing the district administration. I had also filed an FIR with the police on 18 July. I don’t know whether my authorities have accepted my resignation letter,” he added.