Darjeeling Tea Association Gardens Grant Wage Hike

The Darjeeling Tea Association broke ranks with the Indian Tea Association and settled independently on a wage increase with garden workers at 62 plantations represented by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. The labor union continues its embargo of first flush teas at 20 ITA gardens and four independent gardens. The Morcha sought an increase to Rs120 to Rs154 per day but settled for an Rs23 increase to Rs90 ($2.01) per day the day before a three-year contract expired.
During the 2007 negotiations the labor union negotiated a Rs13 increase over three years in three installments.

The Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union agreement awards DTA garden workers the highest wages in the history of the Darjeeling tea industry. Gardens affiliated with the Indian Tea Association "will continue to be crippled by the embargo" according to reports in The Telegraph of Calcutta.

New terms award a Rs23 increase to Rs90 ($2.01) per day during the next three years. Negotiations were conducted in Darjeeling for the first time. Previous discussions were in Calcutta. Parity in wages among gardens has long been the rule. The decision will likely force member gardens of the Intial Tea Association and a small number of independent gardens to accept an increase.

The DTA's decision undermines efforts by the Consultive Committee of Plantation Associations (CCPA) which represents 20 ITA gardens, 62 DTA gardens and four independents.

On Wednesday The Telegraph reported that separately the Labour Department, the CCPA and representatives of other trade unions met in Siliguri to discuss the wage agreement that expired Thursday. Participants rejected Morcha's demand to conduct separate wage talks and have not scheduled meetings. No accord was reached.

Wage parity among gardens has been the norm until now. It is not clear the long-term impact on the region's 55,000 tea workers but

On Wednesday Monojit Dasgupta, the secretary general of the CCPA, said growers "are serious about inking the new wage agreement at the earliest. The tripartite talks have proved to be fruitful in fixing the wages. The issue can be resolved amicably.”

A strike in support of the political movement to create the state of Gorkhaland in West Bengal has hampered Darjeeling tea deliveries since Mar. 4. Protests in support of establishing a home state for the Gorkha has disrupted life in all three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong. Last week the GJM failed to resolve differences after meeting with garden owners following street protests and a general strike. In response the GJM stopped the dispatch of sample tea bags from the hill gardens. Soon after an embargo of all tea shipments was imposed.

First and second flush teas account for 70 percent of the region's annual revenue which produced 8.2 million kg in 2010. The region employs 55,000 workers in the tea gardens which cover 45,000 acres (18,000 hectares).

Garden owners had hoped to discuss the wage revision “in conformity with well established practices towards a composite agreement covering all sections of the West Bengal tea industry.”

According to the Darjeeling Times "this means that the discussion must be carried out with all operating tea unions in Bengal and that no separate parleys could be held only with the Morcha’s union."

"The movement for a separate Gorkha state dates back to the 1980s. Since then it has claimed thousands of human lives. The movement gained momentum last year when the GJM organized strikes on two occasions," according to the Indial publication Hardnews. India employs millions of tea garden workers in its annual production of 10,000 million tonnes; 100,000 are employed in the Siliguri region which last year produced 40,000 tonnes of tea.

Last week tourists were seen fleeing the hills to avoid harassment during the strike. Amid simmering tension, worried parents feared for their children studying in the hill schools. Students have also started moving out of the hills. Supplies to Sikkim were also disrupted as the only highway to the hill state was blocked by the protestors. A guided tour of German tourists in SUVs was detained.

In a statement to the media the CCPA expressed "concern over the move on the part of the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union seeking to bypass… well established norms to achieve their ends through threats which could completely destroy the Darjeeling tea industry.”

Source: The Telegraph of Calcutta.