Darjeeling Tea trade union demands minimum wage Act implementation

Darjeeling Tea trade union demands minimum wage Act implementation
Trade unions of the hills and plains comprising the United Tea Workers’ Forum, the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers and the Defence Committee for Plantation Workers’ Rights today united under a single platform to demand the implementation of the Minimum Wage Act in the region’s tea gardens and threatened to launch an agitation if the state government fails to take heed.
Twenty-one trade unions from the Darjeeling hills and the Terai and the Dooars barring those of the TMC and the GNLF convened a joint conference in Darjeeling that was a follow up of the June 21 meeting in Chalsa.
“There are myriad problems plaguing the tea industry, but the primary one is that of workers’ pay, which is out of sync with the present times. We have already held four bipartite and tripartite meetings with the state government and garden managements, but nothing has materialised so far,” said Zia-ul-Alam, general secretary of the CPM-affiliated Chia Kaman Majdoor Union.
The trade unions said they will hold gate meetings for an hour at their respective gardens on July 24 and 25 to press forward the demand.
“We hear that the fifth round of the talks has been postponed and we condemn this because it is part of the state government’s ploy to create friction between unions. If we don’t get a positive response from the state government after the gate meetings, we will be forced to take recourse to strikes,” threatened Alam, adding their demand will also be placed in Parliament through the respective parties of the trade unions.
Accusing the state government of aligning with the garden managements, the trade unions demanded the minimum wage be fixed on a systematic basis for all worker categories.
“After the deaths of workers due to starvation in six closed tea gardens, the state government has finally accepted gardens have problems. The state government must work for the “majdoor” and not the management,” said Alam.
He added, “A pattern has to be followed while fixing the wage of workers. We want a basic pay system along with VDA, which is presently not being followed.”
The unions want the basic wage of workers to be fixed at Rs322 per day with ration facilities unlike the negotiable Rs90 and Rs95 the hills and plains garden workers are getting at present, respectively. However, the TMC-affiliated
Indian National Trinamool Trade Union Congress wants the basic wage to be kept at Rs206.
“What the TMC trade union is demanding applies to the agriculture sector, but we fall under the industrial skilled sector and therefore, the rate of Rs206 cannot be applicable to us,” said PT Sherpa, president of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-affiliated Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labor Union.
Incidentally, INTTUC president Dola Sen on her maiden visit to Darjeeling on July 15 had made it clear that any rate above Rs206 may not be possible even as she admitted the amount was low. Meanwhile, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee recently announced in Darjeeling the state government would give Rs1,500 to each worker of closed tea gardens till the time the gardens reopen.(EOIC)

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