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12 May 2017

Protest lined up for tea pay

AVIJIT SINHA, TT, Siliguri, May 11: Tea unions will launch demonstrations in all the tea estates of north Bengal tomorrow, demanding fixing and implementation of minimum wage rate and also monetisation of the fringe benefits provided to workers. 
All tea unions will participate in the demonstration, other than those backed by Trinamul. 
The decision has left the planters' worried because a sudden disruption in work during the peak season would affect production and they are apprehensive of a loss of over Rs 15 crore. Processing of the second flush is in progress in the gardens.
"We want the state to fix minimum wage and implement it throughout the tea industry. We will not participate in talks meant for revision of wages. Tomorrow, workers in all tea estates of north Bengal will demonstrate at the entrance to the estates over the demand, before joining work. We also want the tea companies to pay the workers in cash the fringe benefits which are given to them by the planters," Ziaur Alam, the convener of the Joint Forum, said.
According to the trade union leaders, earlier, tea planters used to buy food grains from the market and provided the same to the workers at subsidised rates. Last year, the state had brought the entire tea population under its National Food Security scheme. The state provides rations to the planters at a lower price under the scheme but they distribute the same among workers at the earlier rate.
"Each tea company is saving around Rs 660 a worker in a month as per the scheme. We want the planters to pay this money to the workers in cash," Alam said.
Some other benefits which the tea companies provide to the labourers include firewood and 400gm of tea per month. "Both these can be monetised and paid to workers," he added.
Alam also pointed out that items like slippers, umbrella and raincoats provided to workers are not fringe benefits but "working equipments.
"If no decision is reached on fixing the minimum wage at the meeting to be held on May 17, we will launch an extensive movement," Alok Chakraborty, an Intuc leader based in Siliguri, said.
According to the members of tea planters, the estimated loss in the gardens of the Terai and Dooars - where there are around 200 gardens - would be over Rs 15 crore if tea production is disrupted during the peak season. "Added to these estates, there are 70 tea estates in the hills also," a senior tea planter said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ANIRBAN CHOUDHURY IN ALIPURDUAR

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