Darjeeling: The trade union of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has threatened to launch a fast and stop the dispatch of made tea from three state-owned estates in the Darjeeling hills if the workers are not paid the same wages as their counterparts in the industry.

The West Bengal Tea Development Corporation (WBTDC), a state government undertaking, runs Pandam, Rangaroon and Rangmuk-Cedar gardens in the hills.

The government had played a pro-active role in increasing the wage of garden workers from Rs 67 to Rs 90 in the Darjeeling tea industry with effect from April 1 last year.

“It is surprising that the WBTDC failed to increase the workers’ wages even a year after the government brokered deals between trade unions and garden owners on pay hike. We have been holding gate meetings for an hour from 8am in the three gardens since yesterday. The meetings will continue till February 11,” Babin Subba, a central committee member of the Darjeeling Terai-Dooars Plantation Labour Union, told The Telegraph.

Threatening to intensify the agitation, Subba said: “If we do not get a positive feedback from the government, the workers will start a hunger strike and stop the dispatch of made tea from the three gardens.”

The unions had entered into the wage deals with the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) and the Indian Tea Association separately (ITA). Most of the tea gardens in the hills are affiliated to either of the associations. Although the government plantations are not members of the DTA or the ITA, they generally follow the agreements inked by the two associations.

While Rangmuk-Cedar, located 35km from Darjeeling and in Kurseong subdivision, has 1,931 workers on its pay roll, Rangaroon and Pandam employ 219 and 268 labourers respectively. Both Rangaroon and Pandam are in the Darjeeling subdivision.

Industries minister Partha Chatterjee expressed surprise at the Morcha’s plan to stop the dispatch of tea from the WBTDC gardens. “Who said we are not giving them the revised wages? We are giving them the revised wages. I have conveyed this to Kurseong MLA Rohit Sharma. This kind of threat is not acceptable,” he said at Writers’ Buildings.

However, deputy manager (administration) N. Basu and company secretary S. Samandhar of the WBTDC admitted that the revised wages were not being paid. But they refused to say anything further on the issue.

Source: The Telegraph