Assam Tea Workers Consider Strike for Higher Minimum Wage

Assam workers consider strike

DIBRUGARH, Assam

Frustrated tea workers are considering a walkout that could seriously impact production in the Brahmaputra Valley, the world’s largest tea-producing region.

Members of the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) labor union staged demonstrations last week in several locations in pursuit of a wage hike.

A one-day work stoppage drew attention to their demands, according to reports in The Telegraph (Calcutta).

A contract with the Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations (CCPA) representing garden owners expired Dec. 31. Government officials formed a Minimum Wage Advisory Board last year to fix the minimum wages of tea workers and resolve outstanding issues including an annual bonus. The group recommended an interim hike of INRs17.5 (27¢) per day and a minimum INRs140 ($2.16) per day beginning in the new year. Workers now earn a INRs137 ($2.11) daily minimum. Workers are pressing for a daily minimum of INRs350 ($5.40). No agreement has been signed.

There are 792 registered tea gardens in Assam of which 685 are in the Brahmaputra Valley with the remaining 107 in the Barak Valley. Combined, they employ several hundred thousand workers.

Secretary of the Dibrugarh branch of the ACMS, Nabin Chandra Keot, told the newspaper that the Assam Company Ltd., the largest of Assam’s plantations, was bankrupt and that workers in the 14 tea gardens of the company are in a dismal condition.

“We demand the government’s intervention,” he said.

Workers at rallies by ACMS at the Balijan tea estate in Duliajan in the Dibrugarh district, demanded an immediate increase to INRs 350 and an annual bonus increase from INRs1,500 ($23) to INRs6,000 ($92.50).

Workers also want an INRs500 per month increase for those residing outside the tea estates. India mandates that garden owners provide housing (or a housing subsidy) for workers. Bangsilal Sahu, president of the Tingri circle of the ACMS, said workers would begin a hunger strike if their demands were not met.

Ziaur Alam, convener, Joint Forum, told the newspaper that “If the state fails to finalize and implement the minimum wage by April 30, we would be forced to intensify our movement and can even think of launching strike in the tea industry.”

Source: The Telegraph (Calcutta)