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7 Jun 2017

Brew belt wants to know CM wage line

TROUBLED TIMES
AVIJIT SINHA, Siliguri, June 6: A day after Mamata Banerjee seemed to have alleviated the grievance of the hill population over the state's decision on Bengali learning, stakeholders of tea industry said the chief minister should also speak on the demand by trade union for fixing of minimum wages.
"The chief minister's yesterday's announcement that Bengali will be an optional language in the hills has placated the hill people. In a similar manner, we want her to speak on the issue of minimum wages, that is yet to be fixed by the state and implemented in the tea industry," a senior tea planter in Siliguri said today.
According to him, a clear assertion from the chief minister would help the industry get out of the crisis that it has been confronting since the beginning of the season, thanks to frequent movements by trade unions, except Trinamul.
Over the past couple of months, fixing of minimum wages emerged as the most important issue in the Bengal's tea industry. This is more so because the three-year agreement based on which wages are paid to the workforce expired on March 31.
Joint Forum, the apex body of 24 tea trade unions, has made it clear that they will not sit for any negotiation with the state and tea planters on the new wage revision. They have abstained from meetings convened by the state labour department on the issue, resorted to demonstrations and called a two-day strike in the industry next week to demand fixing of minimum wages.
"So far, there has been no clear assertion from the state's side as to what it intends to do to on the issue. Also, the state labour department appears to be keen on revising the wages. The chief minister has remained silent on the issue and also on other problems pertaining to the industry. We feel she should clarify to tea workers and their families, who are deprived of minimum wages till date, about the state's plan and further course of action," Ziaur Alam, the convener of the Joint Forum, said.
The state has convened a meeting on June 9 on the issue.
"If no decision is taken at the meeting on minimum wages, we will go ahead with our strike," an Intuc leader said.
Leaders of Trinamul-backed tea trade unions, who are opposing the strike and have even mooted a proposal that an interim wage rate be fixed through tripartite talks - they want this wage rate to be implemented unless the minimum wage rate is fixed - also want Mamata to speak.
"The rural polls are scheduled for next year and votes of tea workers matter in the districts of Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar (elections in rural areas of Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad will be due in 2020) and in Islampur subdivision of North Dinajpur. The manner in which the Joint Forum, which has the Citu and the Intuc as constituents, is campaigning against the state and our party on the minimum wage issue has left us worried," a Trinamul leader based in Islampur, said.

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