Interim Wage Hike Quiets Assam but Darjeeling Remains Unsettled

Assam tea workers

The government of Assam just awarded tea workers wage increases of INRs30 ($0.45) per day through 2019 as an interim step in the ongoing negotiations to achieve wage parity in the Brahmaputra and Barak River valleys.

Meanwhile in West Bengal tensions are rising with the announcement of a three-day strike late this month. Tea workers maintain that growers must implement the Minimum Wage Act, which establishes a national baseline for agriculture wages. Growers continue to favor negotiations with three-year terms which has been the practice since 1977. A working committee of planters, workers, and government officials continues to seek a resolution amid what is being called a “deep crisis,” according to The Economic Times.

The Assam raise, which is retroactive to March 1, 2018, brings daily wages to INRs167 ($2.43) in the Brahmaputra River Valley and INRs145 ($2.11) per day in the Barak Valley, according to welfare minister Pallab Lochan Das. A bilateral wage agreement between the workers’ union expired last December, according to reports in the Times of India.

Workers will also for the first time be covered by government insurance in case of permanent disability or death. Coverage applies to 800,000 workers with bank accounts and will expand as others qualify. Under the program the government transfers an annual premium to personal accounts where it is debited. Settlements “will go a long way in ensuring the social security of garden workers whose families struggle to make ends meet after the death of the bread-earner.”

“India’s Congress on Saturday reminded the ruling BJP government of its promise of increasing the daily wages of tea estate workers to INRs350 ($5.10) per day,” the Economic Times reported.

Congressional leader Pradyut Bordoloi said, “BJP has promised to increase the wages to INRs350 per day ahead of assembly polls however it is two years now there is no effort to increase the wage.”

In Calcutta, Prabir Bhattacharjee, secretary-general of the Tea Association of India, told the Calcutta Telegraph that production is in full swing and that “protests in the gardens, followed by a three-day strike is something that the industry would find hard to sustain.” He estimated losses at 10 million kilograms. State officials have asked labor representatives in the Joint Forum (comprised of several labor unions) to refrain from agitation and a strike during discussions.

Sources: The Times of India, Economic Times, The Calcutta Telegraph