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23 May 2017

Tea strike call sparks Rs 100cr loss fear

TT, Siliguri, May 22: Trade unions have called a 48-hour strike in Bengal's tea gardens on June 12 and 13 and demonstrations for two days later this month, sparking fears they could cost the industry Rs 100 crore at a time it is yet to overcome demonetisation-induced losses.
The Joint Forum, an apex body of over 20 tea garden unions, said the demonstrations would be held even at bought-leaf factories and small estates to demand the implementation of the minimum wage policy and a host of other things.
"A meeting of the constituent unions of the forum was held yesterday. It was seen that no progress had been made on our demand for minimum wages for tea garden workers in the state. So, the forum decided to observe a 48-hour general strike on June 12 and 13. Workers will also hold demonstrations in tea gardens (known as gate meetings) on May 29 and 30 before joining their duties," said Ziaur Alam, the forum's convener.
The planters expressed concern over the effects of the strike called by the forum, which has several prominent unions other than those owing allegiance to Trinamul.
"Since November last year, we have been confronting several problems because of the Centre's demonetisation drive. Wages couldn't be paid on time because of the cash crunch, which led to protests and even the closure of some tea estates," said Prabir Bhattacharjee, the secretary-general of the Tea Association of India.
Planters in north Bengal said the strike was called at a time things were gradually improving for the industry.
"Over the past few months, that is since the commencement of the new season, the industry has got a fillip to get over the crisis. Over 60 per cent of the total production of the season is over and activities in the gardens are in full swing. If the trade unions launch a strike now, it would adversely affect the industry," S. Guhathakurta, the secretary of the Dooars Branch of Indian Tea Association, said.
A senior tea planter in Siliguri said work in the gardens would come to a halt for four days - on the days of the strike and the demonstrations.
Sources said a day's halt in production amounted to a loss of around Rs 7 lakh in a garden. There are 300 gardens in north Bengal, apart from small tea plantations and over 100 bought-leaf factories.
"Altogether, the industry would lose around Rs 25 crore a day and it would be around Rs 100 crore for four days. We believe that when talks are on to fix the minimum wage, the unions should revoke the decision," he said.
The trade unions are, however, not ready to budge.
"The state government and the tea planters have almost three weeks to decide on the minimum wage and other demands. If no decision is taken even after the strike, tea workers will hit the streets in July," said Mani Kumar Darnal, the joint-general secretary of the Intuc-backed National Union of Plantation Workers.

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