Good News for Tea workers

After weeks of haggling, trade union leaders of tea gardens across the region have something to smile about.

In a bipartite meeting between labour union leaders and planters today, it was decided that workers in tea estates across the Dooars and Terai would receive their bonus at a rate marginally higher than last year’s. The meeting that was held at the conference hall of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce office in Calcutta comes after a number of similar meetings, since the middle of August, failed to reach a consensus.

“It is good that we have finally decided on the bonus issue. We were insisting on a higher rate this time, especially in the context of the improved scenario in the tea industry and the planters have decided on a hike,” said Samir Roy, the convener of Defence Committee of Plantation Workers’ Rights.

This year the bonus issue had reached a deadlock after the various stakeholders of the sector failed to agree on the condition of the tea industry. While trade union leaders claimed that the gardens had witnessed a revival, the planters felt that the industry had been dealt a hard blow by the near-drought conditions that had gripped the region this time. They also rued the loss incurred from the 15-day strike across the gardens last year and the reduction in tea prices.

“We were desperate to come to an early solution. We had a daylong meeting with the labour leaders yesterday but could not come to a decision. However, today’s meeting concluded fruitfully,” said N.K. Basu, the principal adviser to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association.

The bonus fixed in today’s meeting is 11.25 per cent for A-grade tea estates, 10 per cent for B-grade gardens, 9.15 per cent for C-grade and 8.50 per cent for D-grade gardens. Last year, bonus was paid at the rate of 11 per cent in A-grade, 9.75 per cent in B-grade, 9 per cent in C-grade and 8.33 per cent in D-grade estates, tea industry sources said.

Source: The Telegraph

Tea Official to Deal with Tea matters

North Bengal is famous for its production of tea. Acknowledging the tea industry’s importance, the state government has decided to appoint a tea official at Jalpaiguri who will exclusively deal with tea related matters.

Now that the appointment has been sanctioned by the state cabinet, it is a matter of time before the WBCS rank official is appointed at the Jalpaiguri divisional commissioner’s office. Tea industry officials, attending a review meeting on the recommendations of the tea committee convened by commerce and industry minister Mr Nirupam Sen in Kolkata, were informed of the development yesterday.

“Several other issues related to land, labour, ration, closed and abandoned plantations, modernisation of tea plantations, sale of tea through PDS and small growers, were discussed in the meeting,” principal adviser to Indian Tea Planters’ Association Mr NK Basu said.

According to him, it has been decided that renewal of lease for established plantations would have to be done within 90 days from the expiry of the previous lease. “Any delay in granting the lease would have to be reported to appropriate authorities along with suitable explanation,” he added.

Responding to the small growers’ demand for an immediate survey of the small tea holdings, Mr Sen instructed that a format, prepared by the commerce department, should reach the Tea Board within a fortnight and the survey should begin immediately thereafter.

“The Tea Board would be financing the survey. The survey is extremely important for the small growers since it would bring forth the actual number of small growers, the categories they belong to, the quantity of land being used by the small growers and the tentative quantity of tea produced and manufactured by this section,” the United Forum of Small Tea Growers’ Association secretary, Mr Bijoygopal Chakrabarty, said.

According to him, 5,333 small tea growers have applied for lease and no objection certificates. “Out of those only 2,453 cases have been disposed off so far. The minister has therefore urged the land department to complete the survey and grant NOC within 90 days to plantations under 25 acre on retained land and to regularise those which are beyond 50 acres and above ceiling holdings,” he added.

Source: The Statesman

Electrification of Labor Houses

The much-hyped first meeting between labour minister Mrinal Banerjee and stakeholders of the tea industry held here today failed to yield specific results, save some discussion on electrification of labour lines.

After the meet, at a news conference, Banerjee spoke at length on the electrification issue, but left abruptly when the questions veered towards another important topic, the implementation of the Plantation Labour Act.

“The process of giving individual meters to tea workers had indeed suffered a setback,” admitted Banerjee. “Now we have instructed the planters to ensure that all of them apply for the connections by October.”

Following protests from trade union leaders that workers pay higher tariff for electricity due to bulk connection in estates, the state government had promised individual connections to them.

“Only 76 gardens in north Bengal have applied so far and the system has been implemented in only 16,” said Chitta Dey, convener of the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers. “We doubt whether the process will be completed by December 31, 2006, the proposed date of completion.”

He added: “Citing specific cases, we also asked the minister to intervene on the improper implementation of the Plantation Labour Act, about 65 per cent of which is not followed by the planters.” Convener of the Defence Committee for Plantation Workers’ Rights Samir Roy said Banerjee promised to revive the non-functional housing advisory and medical committees in the estates.

“He also promised that his department would come up with a new definition of abandoned gardens,” Roy added.

The planters, however, seemed happy and termed the minister “pro-active” in his attempts to solve the problems of the tea industry.

Source: The Telegraph

Hope for less smuggling of tea leaves

The decision of the Nepalese tea industry to increase the wages of its workers has come as a welcome relief to its counterpart in Darjeeling, who hope that it will stop the illegal entry of green tealeaves from the neighbouring country.

Following a two-week agitation, jointly led by the Independent Tea Plantation Workers’ Union of Nepal, Nepal Tea Plantation Workers’ Union and All Nepal Tea Plantation Workers’ Union, the Tea Producer’s Association decided to raise the wages by almost 28.33 per cent. After the rise, a tea worker in Nepal will receive 95 Nepalese Rupees (NR), which will be a huge leap from the earlier 74 NR, while their counterparts here get 81.44 NR.

It has also increased the rate of additional tea plucked (more than 26 kg per day) from 1 NR to 1.15 NR and has also decided to pay Dashain allowance (annual bonus).

According to planters in the hills, the rise in wages of Nepalese workers will result in an increase in the production cost of the tea, which will make smuggling of tealeaves as Darjeeling Tea unviable. “With the cost price going up in Nepal, the profit from the sale of pilfered tealeaves will no longer be as high as before. This will help check the stealing of green leaves to Darjeeling,” said Harish Mukhia, a planter in Darjeeling.

Though workers in Nepal will be paid a higher wage, the cost of production will still remain less than that in Darjeeling. This is largely due to the fact that unlike their counterpart in Nepal, the Indian tea industry has to bear additional social costs, like free ration, housing and provident funds for workers. However, there is a possibility that the Nepal industry might be forced to accept the social responsibilities too, said a source.

Nepalese planters have also decided to form a task force, which will look into various demands of workers. Moreover the trade unions and management have decided to form a labour relation committee.

“If the Nepalese tea industry also starts bearing social responsibility, the cost of production will no longer remain so low. Then, we can expect a substantial fall in the smuggling of leaves,” said Mukhia.

Source: The Telegraph