West Bengal Tea Workers Plan Strike

Tea workers in West Bengal, frustrated after nearly a year of wage negotiations, announced they will strike this week.

iStock_000023269347MediumExpect street protests and work disruptions beginning Thursday and a relay strike targeting individual gardens beginning Friday. A long march is planned Feb. 20 if wage issues are not resolved.

The joint forum of tea workers is pressing for daily wages in line with India’s minimum wage act. Unions representing the workers are scheduled to meet with government officials and representatives of the tea planters on Feb. 7. The meeting follows 10 unsuccessful formal sessions dating to last year when the current three-year contract expired April 1. In 2011 workers received an INRs28 (45 cent) daily increase to INRs95 ($1.53 per day) in addition to statutory benefits including subsidized food grains, fuel wood, fresh water, electricity, housing and a maternity benefit along with performance bonus based on garden yield.

The trade union wing of the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal is seeking INRs206 a day in wages including a cash value for statutory benefits.

“But, on the other side, total 24 major tea trade unions including those affiliated to CITU, INTUC as well as few local ones have formed a joint platform to demand the wage to be as per minimum wage Act,” according to the Economic Times.“In addition, we want variable Dearness Allowances and statutory benefits,” CITU West Bengal State Vice President Ajit Sarkar told the newspaper. He estimated the daily wage with benefits comes to more than INRs 250 ($4.03) per day.

“Understandably, that is ‘Difficult for us to accept,’ commented senior planters representing 24 garden management companies.

State government Labor Minister Malay Ghatak recommends an interim settlement of three years to provide sufficient time to study the impact of Minimum Wage Act compliance. Gardens are currently exempt from minimum wage rules under the Plantation Act of 1952. The minimum wage act does not require employers to provide food, housing, medical care and education benefits to workers.

Source: The Economic Times

Dan Bolton

About Dan Bolton

Dan Bolton edits STiR Tea & Coffee Industry International. He was formerly editor and publisher of World Tea News and former editor and publisher of Tea Magazine and former editor-in-chief of Specialty Coffee Retailer. He is a beverage retail consultant and frequent speaker at industry seminars and conferences. His work has appeared in many beverage publications. He was a newspaper reporter and editor for 20 years prior to his career in magazines. Dan is the founding editor of Natural Food magazine and has led six publishing ventures since 1995. He lives in Winnipeg, Canada.