TT, Siliguri, April 2: Trinamul leaders in the brew belt of north Bengal have a new challenge to face now.
The three-year wage agreement of tea garden workers expired on March 31.
However, unlike previous years when wages were revised through talks held by the state labour department in the presence of trade union leaders and representatives of tea planters' associations, the situation is different in 2017.
More importantly, polls to four municipalities in the hills are drawing near, followed by panchayat and GTA elections. This time, Trinamul is putting extreme efforts in the elections.
"As the wage agreement is no longer there, it is obvious that other political parties, particularly the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, will raise the issue if there is delay in finalising the new deal or fixing the minimum pay during election campaign. There might be one or two tea estates in civic areas of the hills but an issue pertaining to workers always leaves an impact on adjoining towns, both in the hills and the plains," a senior tea trade union leader in Siliguri said.
In such a situation, he said, the best way for the ruling party to counter such campaigns is by ensuring that the state implements the minimum wage or fixes a revised wage at the earliest.
The last wage agreement was signed in February 2015, even though the previous agreement had expired on March 31, 2014.
"This means, negotiations continued for around 10 months well after the expiry of the previous pact. If such a situation happens this time, it is natural that other political parties will consistently raise the issue both in the hills and the plains. The rural areas of the hills and several constituencies of the GTA are dotted with tea estates," a Trinamul insider said.
It is necessary to have the support of tea workers and their families to win seats in the hills. Same is the case in North Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar, where panchayat elections would be held next year, along with other districts, except Darjeeling.
"Revision of wages is an issue that had done wonders for parties in rural polls, particularly for the Left and Congress. This time, Trinamul will try to reap its benefit. But the problem is that civic polls are just one-and-a-half months away. This is why it is a challenge for Trinamul," an observer said.