Unions in war over wages

Siliguri, Aug. 19: Some trade unions have decided to bargain for a tea wage higher than Rs 91 a day, even if it is only Rs 2-3 more, to win back those who had switched loyalties to join the Adivasi Vikas Parishad backed-Progressive Tea Workers’ Union (PTWU).

The decision comes a day after labour minister Purnendu Bose sent a feeler to the planters that the PTWU was ready to settle for Rs 91, a proposed daily wage that planters are not willing to consider.

An apex body of trade unions has also come down heavily on the PTWU for scaling down arbitrarily the demand for wages from Rs 250 to Rs 130 and finally to Rs 91 without consulting other labour organisations.

“The PTWU had initially demanded a daily wage of Rs 250 and during tripartite talks they had slashed it down to Rs 130. The tripartite talks ended inconclusively at the beginning of this month where we stuck to Rs 130. As a follow-up, the PTWU leaders resumed their old demand for Rs 250 but again, at the meetings with state ministers said they were ready to accept even Rs 91 as the revised rate,” Samir Roy, convener of the Defence Committee for Plantation Workers Rights, said. “We want the PTWU to clarify its stand as there is no surety that they will not put forward a fresh set of demands.”

Roy said the PTWU should have consulted the other trade unions and a joint decision taken for a better bargain.

But many trade unions leaders said the PTWU’s new rate has given them a face-saver as well as means to win back their supporters.

“We always knew that the planters would never agree to pay Rs 130. But we could not bring down our rates. Now that the PTWU has done it, it will be easier for us. But we will negotiate for rates like Rs 93 or Rs 95 per day. In that case we can tell the workers that we have got for them more than what the PTWU had got,” a senior trade union leader said.

All trade unions under the two apex bodies will discuss them at a meeting on August 27.”

Tea planters, however, have ruled out paying Rs 91. “Considering several aspects like production cost and tea prices, we had proposed an annual hike of Rs 8 for next three years at the end of which the wage will become Rs 91 after two years,” said Ranjit Dutta, secretary of the NB branch of Tea Association of India. “As of now, it is not possible for us pay Rs 91 as daily wage.”

Other planters said if there was pressure on them to pay even Rs 91, they would be forced to close down of gardens. “Many gardens run with marginal working capital and any sudden shortage may lead to non-payment of wages and other dues, followed by closure of these units,” a planter said.

The Telegraph