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23 May 2017

Unions call agitation, planters fear losses

TT, Siliguri, May 22: A conglomeration of trade unions has announced a 48-hour strike in the tea sector and demonstrations in each plantation for two days, dealing another blow to the industry that is yet to surmount the blows dealt by the demonetisation drive.
The Joint Forum, the apex body of over 20 tea garden trade unions, declared the strike and demonstrations which would be held even at bought-leaf factories and on small estates, to demand the implementation of minimum wages and a host of other things.
The planters said the agitation would cause a loss of Rs 100 crore to the sector.
"A meeting of the constituent unions of the forum was held yesterday and it was noted that no progress had been made on our demand to fix minimum wages for tea garden workers in the state. So, the forum decided to observe a 48-hour general strike in the tea industry on June 12 and 13. Ahead of the strike, workers will hold demonstrations in tea gardens (known as gate meetings) on May 29 and 30 before joining their duties," Ziaur Alam, the Forum's convener, said.
The forum, Alam said, would appeal to the people of tea producing areas - Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts and the subdivisions of Islampur in North Dinajpur and Mekhliganj in Cooch Behar - observe a 12-hour general strike on June 13 in solidarity with workers.
The planters are worried over the effects of the strike called by the forum that has prominent unions other than those allegiant to Trinamul.
"Since November, we have been confronting several problems because of the Centre's demonetisation exercise. Wages couldn't be paid on time because of the cash crunch, leading to protests and even closure of some tea estates," Prabir Bhattacharjee, the secretary general of the Tea Association of India, said.
The planters said the unions had called the strike when the situation was gradually improving.
"In the past few months, that is since the commencement of the new season, the industry has got a fillip to get over the crisis. These months, over 60 per cent of the total production of the season is over and activities in the gardens are in full swing now. 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 tea planter in Siliguri said the work would come to a halt for four days, that is on the days of the strike and the demonstrations. A day's halt in production means 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 when talks are going on to fix the minimum wage, the unions should revoke the decision," he said.
The unions are, however, not ready to budge. "The state government and the tea planters have almost three weeks to decide on the minimum wages and other demands. If no decision is taken even after the strike, tea workers will hit the streets in July," Mani Kumar Darnal, the joint-general secretary of the Intuc-backed National Union of Plantation Workers, said.

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