Over 100 permanent workers of Redbank Tea Estate in Banarhat, Jalpaiguri, have joined the adjacent garden of Surendranagar as casual labourers, sparking a row between Citu and Intuc-affiliated unions.

The workers come from Salboni, a division of the Redbank tea estate with 150 hectares of plantation. This morning, an altercation broke out between the two unions when members of the Citu-affiliated operations and maintenance committee (OMC) of Redbank went to the Salboni division to dissuade the labourers from going over to Surendranagar.

“When we went there, a few toughs, whom we suspect to be accomplices of the owner of Surendranagar, threatened us,” said Debabrata Pal, a member of the OMC. “We protested but turned back to avoid any law and order problem. We consider this to be a plot by the owner to create a rift among Redbank workers.”

Both the gardens are owned by Rabin Paul. But while Paul has regained control of Surendranagar after almost four years, Redbank is still run by an OMC. Redbank has gone into liquidation from March 28 this year and the OMC members put the blame for the situation on the “irresponsible attitude” of Paul towards the garden.

Leaders of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW), which enjoys the support of the workers of Surendranagar, said labourers are increasingly preferring them over the Citu. “Of the 113 permanent workers of Salboni, more than 100 are with us now,” said Pradip Mullick of NUPW. “Instead of plucking tealeaves and handing them over to the Citu-dominated OMC at Redbank, they prefer to work as casual workers at Surendranagar.”

In total, there are over 800 workers at Redbank.

The NUPW leader also claimed that it was Citu supporters who had tried to create trouble this morning. “But the workers thwarted their ploy,” Mullick said.

The workers in question said they had switched gardens on their own. “We used to get around Rs 15 to Rs 20 per day from the OMC for plucking tealeaves at Salboni, but at Surendranagar we are earning Rs 53.90 every day even as casual labourers,” said one of those who have crossed over.

Source: The Telegraph