The Bengal tea industry and workers' unions on Friday fixed the minimum wage for Dooars and Terai tea garden workers across the state to Rs 85 a day followed by an annual hike of Rs 5 for the next two years. The wage hike will come into retrospective effect from April 1 of this fiscal.

According to the three-year agreement, the daily wage of the workers will be Rs 85 for the current year, Rs 90 for 2012-2013 and Rs 95 for the financial year ending on March 31, 2014.

Earlier, the daily wage in the plains tea gardens with 2.5 lakh workers had been Rs 67.

Ministers Purnendu Bose (labour), Gautam Deb (north Bengal development) and Partha Chatterjee (industries) were present at the meeting, where it was announced that the tea problem stood solved “as of now”.

“It’s not hundred per cent of what we had set out to achieve. But this is a win-win situation for all stakeholders. We are trying to do everything we can for the revival and rejuvenation of the tea industry,” said Chatterjee after the agreement was signed at Writers’ Buildings between the government, five planters’ associations and 35 labor unions.

“We had been negotiating with the garden owners and the labor unions for months to try and reach a consensus on the wage. Demands were as high as Rs 165 a day. But we had to find a common ground. The arrears, for the period between April 1 and October 31 this year, will be paid in two installments before Christmas and Holi,” said Bose. The new wages will be paid at the end of this week. The variable dearness allowance, the calculation of which is based on the All India Consumer Price Index and to which the workers are entitled to under the agreement, will be settled within the next six months.

“It took months to resolve the issue but our initiative helped reach a wage rate, which is the highest ever in the industry so far. Workers used to get a daily wage of Rs 67 which has been revised to Rs 85, meaning a hike of Rs 18. In the agreements facilitated by the previous government, the hike had never been so high,” north Bengal development minister Deb.

In April, the labor wing of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha had managed to strike a wage deal of Rs 90 a day, a hike of Rs 23, for workers of the Darjeeling tea industry.

Since then, the plains workers had been clamoring for a similar wage hike.

The state government has also decided to ask the Center to provide food-grain and amenities like drinking water, sanitation and medical facilities to the tea laborers. The fringe benefits are now provided by the managements of the respective gardens.

“We will talk to the Center to explore the possibilities of bringing these amenities under the ambit of the National Rural Health Mission,” said Bose.

The government, the owners and the labor unions also agreed in writing to ensure a smooth day-to-day running of the tea estates.

“We will strive to revive the tea industry by ensuring export growth, better revenue collection and consumer satisfaction. We are very serious about it. We will also speak to the Center and set up a tea directorate for the overall supervision of the industry,” said Chatterjee. “This agreement is just a stepping stone. A lot of responsibilities lie ahead for us,” he added.

The industries minister said the government would also try to revive the five state-owned tea estates which had been running on losses for years.

“We are happy with today’s agreement,” said Sukra Munda, the chairperson of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad backed-Progressive Tea Workers’ Union.

“The issue had been pending for sometime to be resolved. Now it has been resolved,” said Harihar Acharya, the Terai committee president of the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union, which is affiliated to the Morcha.

The planters, too, breathed a sigh of relief. “We have proved our sincerity about arriving at a settlement. But because of the revision in the wages, there will be a steep rise in production costs. The state government has promised to help us,” said Sanjoy Bagchi, the assistant secretary of the Dooars Branch of the Indian Tea Association.