Dependant thorn in tea pay deal

North Bengal tea garden worker
Darjeeling: The ratio of dependents to a tea garden worker has become one of the most contentious issues in negotiations to fix minimum wages in north Bengal, where a month long agitation began on the issue on July 1.
The Bengal government had formed a minimum wage advisory committee in February 2015 with nine representatives each from unions, management and the state. The talks have been on for the past three years.
"We want the minimum wage to be worked out keeping in mind that a worker's earnings has to suffice for three dependents. The management is not keen on a 1:3 ratio but on a 1:1.5 formula," said Zia-ul Haq, convenor of the Joint Forum, a conglomeration of 24 tea trade unions, except those affiliated to Trinamul.
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Haq, a member in the wage committee, said the union leaders like him had not "just come up with this ratio". "It is mandated in the Minimum Wages Act, 1948. The government had also sought the opinion of the advocate-general of Bengal and he, too, said the law of the land should prevail."
Tea managements, however, insist the tea industry should be treated differently as it "engaged multiple workers from the same family".
Raha said the planters had already explained their position to the advisory committee and pointed out that matters other than the family ratio, such as the wage structure, also needed to be ironed out. Unlike other industries, wages in tea gardens not only include cash but also include components like free housing, medical facilities, ration and firewood among others," said Raha.

A tea garden worker gets a daily wage of Rs 159 in north Bengal and Rs 137 in Assam. In Assam too, an advisory board has been formed to look into fixation of minimum wages but is yet to come up with a suggestion.
However, the southern states - which account for 20 per cent of the country's tea production - the daily wages are higher, ranging from Rs 264 to Rs 310.
B.K. Mohan, chairman of the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA), said: "In southern gardens, many fringe benefits are not given to the workers." Haq, however, said that apart from ration, firewood and "400gm of made tea per month", all other facilities are extended to the south workers.
Senior officials of the labour department, involved in facilitating the wage talks, spoke of "considerable progress" on the issue.
"The recommendation made by the advocate-general indicates the proposal of the union should be taken into consideration. We have spoken to planters and there are some ancillary issues, such as monetising the value of facilities they provide to workers, before a final decision (on minimum wages) is reached," said Pashupati Ghosh, additional labour commissioner of the state.
According to Ghosh, the delay in finalising minimum wages had prompted the state to intervene and announce an interim hike of Rs 17.50 from January 2018.#"Unless there is consensus, minimum wage cannot be fixed. That is why the state felt it necessary to help the workers with an interim increase so that they do not feel deprived. We are hopeful that the matter will be resolved soon," said Ghosh.

The Telegraph
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The ratio of dependents to a tea garden worker has become one of the most contentious issues in negotiations to fix minimum wages in north Bengal

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