India Tea Wage Stalemate Resolved in Dooars-Terai


Hard-fought negotiations on behalf of 250,000 tea workers in the Dooars and Terai ended on Friday with a wage increase to INRs 85 ($1.73) a day.

The workers, represented by 36 labor unions, will receive back wages from their current INRs 67 ($1.36) rate effective April 1, 2011. The three-year agreement represents a 27 percent increase with provisions for a INRs 5 annual raise in each of the next two years, rising to INRs 95 for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2014.

Representatives of five planter groups and government officials praised the outcome as did workers who in August had called strikes, organized protests and an embargo and dumped thousands of tons of tea on major highways to call attention to their efforts.

"We are glad that finally the agreement has been signed," worker’s representative Samir Roy told the Times of India. Roy is Convener of the Defense Committee for Plantation Workers' Rights, a body comprising 18 labor unions.

Source: Times of India

“We have proved our sincerity about arriving at a settlement,” Indian Tea Association Assistant Secretary Sanjoy Bagchi told The (Calcutta) Telegraph. “But because of the revision in the wages, there will be a steep rise in production costs. The state government has promised to help us,” said Sanjoy Bagchi, the assistant secretary of the Dooars Branch of the Indian Tea Association.

Source: The (Calcutta) Telegraph

The 153 tea gardens owned by the government in the Dooars foothills and 42 Terai plains gardens together produce 230 million kgs(mkg) annually. Processed tea generally brings between INRs 120-130 ($2.25-2.65) but has fallen recently. Several of the region’s gardens operate at a loss and profits at many others are thin. The wage increase adds greatly to production costs.

Negotiations involved state Labor Minister Purnendu Base and Gautam Deb, minister for North Bengal affairs. Industries Minister Partha Chatterjee described the resolution to The (Calcutta) Times as “a win-win situation for all stakeholders.

“We are trying to do everything we can for the revival and rejuvenation of the tea industry,” said Chatterjee.

India’s national government is in the final stages of establishing a $1 billion program to reinvigorate the country’s tea industry. Under discussion are food-grain and drinking water, sanitation and medical facilities for tea labors, benefits provided by the managements of successful gardens, but lacking at marginal gardens.

“We will strive to revive the tea industry by ensuring export growth, better revenue collection and consumer satisfaction. We are very serious about it,” said Chatterjee who announced the pending creation of a government tea directorate to revamp the industry.”

Locally he said the directorate will attempt to reopen five state-owned gardens. Improvements in living conditions of the workers are an important hurdle to overcome.

“This agreement is just a stepping stone. A lot of responsibilities lie ahead for us,” he added.
The new wages are effective this week. Arrears will be paid in two installments, the first before Christmas. Workers are also entitled to receive a variable dearness allowance. The allowance is based on the All India Consumer Price Index to be determined in six months.

Workers initially sought parity with tea workers in West Bengal where in March wages in Darjeeling were raised to INRs 90 ($1.83) per day. Subsequent negotiations with planters deadlocked for months at INRs 75 ($1.53).

Darjeeling annually sells every leaf it produces with some single-estate organic (DJ-1) teas that are sold direct bringing hundreds of dollars and more per kilo. The average price of INRs 205 ($4.15/kg) in 2008 has risen substantially, earning INRs 236 ($4.90/kg) in 2010 compared to an average price of INRs 64 ($1.30/kg) for all tea that year.

In June 2011 Darjeeling teas averaged INRs 323 ($6.55/kg) while the average price for all teas sold at auction was INRs 63 ($1.29), according to the India Tea Board.

Sources: The (Calcutta) Telegraph and Times of India

Source: The (Calcutta) Telegraph

Source: Times of India