Tea Workers Strike

SILIGURI, West Bengal – Several hundred thousand of India’s tea workers halted production at 103 gardens last week to protest drawn out wage negotiations and to press for minimum pay.

Shops closed and streets were quiet in three districts for two days as workers sought a new minimum wage in three way talks between government officials, organizations representing planters, and worker unions.

In six previous negation sessions planters have proposed a wage hike of INRs 30 (49-cents) per day. The government is pressing an increase of INRs 40 (65-cents) per days and workers want INRs 72 ($1.20) to bring their pay in line with INRs 167 minimums established for agricultural workers in other segments. Non-union tea workers make INRs 85 to 100. Tea workers in the past received lower wages because the government mandates that planters provide free housing, water, electricity, medical care, a pension and educational services for their children. Many planters also provide fuel, land for kitchen gardens and recreation and distribute government subsidized food grains.

TEA WORKERS_Photo courtesy Nansang Estate_Assam_ByDBPhotoWorld_sm

Photo courtesy of Nansang Estate, Assam. By DB Photo World.

Tea workers represented by 23 labor unions in the United Trade Union Congress (UTUC) continue to receive a previously negotiated day rate of INRs 90 or INRs 95 ($1.50) since April when their three-year agreement expired. Negotiations are schedule to resume this week.

“The two day strike, strike in tea gardens on Tuesday and 12- day general strike in north Bengal on Wednesday has generated much enthusiasm among the people. It has created an awareness about the rights of tea garden workers,” Debjit Dutta, the spokesperson of United Tea Workers Front (UTWF) told The Hindu.

In separate negotiations in Assam the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) is demanding a wage hike to INRs 330 ($5.37) per day minus components like allowances for housing, medicines, electricity, drinking water, pension, PF, gratuity and bonus.

The association said the 2010 bilateral wage agreement between ACMS and the Consultative Committee of Plantation Association (CCPA) should be abolished and the tea industry should comply with both the Plantation Labour Act, 1951, and the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, according to an account in the Times of India.

To resolve the wage issue government officials have proposed a committee to establish a minimum wage similar to other agriculture sectors. A representative of 18 unions agreed to a meeting with planter representatives and government officials from a list drafted by Labour Minister Malay Ghatak.
A minimum would apply to all tea workers.

Chitta Dey, the convenor of the Co-ordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers told the The (Calcutta) Telegraph, “Our principal demand is fixing of minimum wage in the tea industry, to which the state and the Centre seem to be giving impetus now.”

“We have put forward certain proposals on the wage hike and are keen to resolve the matter at the earliest. Trade union leaders should sit across the table and come up with proposals which the industry can accept,” said Prabir Bhattacharjee, the secretary general of the Tea Association of India.