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10 May 2017

Tea unions skip wage revision meet - Joint Forum insists on minimum pay and rejects three-year deal

The meeting in progress at the ITPA Hall, in Jalpaiguri on Tuesday. Picture by Biplab Basak
TT, May 9: All tea garden trade unions, except those backed by Trinamul, today stayed away from the tripartite meeting called by the state labour department in Jalpaiguri to discuss the revision of wages for workers.
The unions skipped the session, saying they didn't want to negotiate with the tea planters' associations the wage revision for a three-year period and instead stuck to the demand to fix a minimum pay for the sector.
Wages in the Bengal tea industry are finalised through tripartite talks and agreements signed for a period of three financial years. The previous agreement had ended on March 31, 2017.
The Joint Forum, an umbrella body of 24 tea trade unions, had insisted during the talks that unless the state took a decision on minimum wages, they would not sign any agreement on the wage hike for 2014-17.
Discussions were held nine times and finally, on February 20, 2015, the new tripartite agreement was signed. The agreement, though signed in 2015, was implemented with retrospective effect from April 1, 2014, which expired on March 31 this year.
As per the agreement, a tea worker, both in the plains and hills, earns Rs 132.50 per day.
Today, the meeting was held by Pashupati Ghosh, the additional labour commissioner of the state, in the Indian Tea Planters' Association office in Jalpaiguri.
Representatives of all tea planters' associations, along with leaders of two trade unions, Terai Dooars Plantation Workers' Union and Darjeeling Zilla Tea Employees and Workers Union - both affiliated to the INTTUC - were present at the meeting.
"We have made it clear to the planters and the state that we will not sit for any negotiation on the wage issue unless the state fixes the minimum pay. That is why none of our constituent unions attended the meeting," Ziaur Alam, the convener of the Joint Forum, said.
Today, union leaders of the Joint Forum held a meeting at Chalsa in Jalpaiguri and condemned participation of the two INTTUC trade unions at the tripartite meeting.
"Both these unions, backed by the INTTUC, have advocated interim wage revision. This, we believe, is against the interests of tea workers and such proposal would only delay the decision on minimum wages. We suspect these unions are acting in the interests of tea planters," Alam said.
In 2015, the state had formed an advisory board comprising stakeholders of tea industry to recommend minimum wages to the government. So far, four meetings of the board have been held but no decision has been taken on the minimum wage rate.

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