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17 Jun 2017

Strike hits hill tea production

AVIJIT SINHA, TT, Siliguri, June 16: The ongoing general strike by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has hit the production of Darjeeling Tea with workers staying away from all 87 gardens in the hills. 
The indefinite shutdown has come in the middle of the production of second flush of Darjeeling Tea which is from the first week of June till the mid-July. 
In June alone, the production came to a halt in the tea industry on three days because of strikes. 
A day after violence in Darjeeling town, the Morcha had enforced a strike across the hills on June 9. 
The Joint Forum, a confederation of over 20 trade unions, including that of the Morcha, had called a strike in the tea sector in north Bengal on June 12 and 13, demanding fixing of minimum wages for the workforce.
"Work had just resumed in tea gardens in the hills on June 14. Again, after the Morcha announced an indefinite general strike yesterday, the production is stopped. We have no idea how long the strike will continue," said a senior manager of an estate in Kurseong subdivision.
The total 87 tea estates in the hills have around 57,000 workers.
Sandeep Mukherjee, the principal advisor to the Darjeeling Tea Association, said: "We are worried as the industry would suffer if there is no change in the situation. Production was at the peak and a sudden halt means losses for each estate."
According to tea planters, the strikes have affected the production of second flush of Darjeeling Tea.
"The second flush accounts for around 20 per cent of the total production. Tea produced during the second flush fetches handsome prices. We have found that if gardens close down for one day, around one per cent of the annual production is lost. This means we have already lost around five per cent of the production in the past seven days," said the manager of another tea estate which was shut yesterday also after the Morcha's call for the indefinite general strike.
A tea exporter in Siliguri has said 1kg of second flush Darjeeling Tea is sold between Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,500.
In 2016, 8.45 million kg of Darjeeling Tea was produced.
Sources said leaders of the Darjeeling tea planters' association had held informal communication with the Morcha after the announcement of the shutdown yesterday.
"But there has been no positive response from the other side. In fact, in the present state of affairs, we are perplexed and don't know to whom we should speak," a source said.
The leaders of the Morcha-affiliated Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union, however, sounded unperturbed.
"We are striving for Gorkhaland. There might be some losses in the tea sector but right now, we are focusing on the movement for statehood. Tea garden workers and their families are with us and backing the demand. Many of them have asserted that they are ready to bear the loss of wages for the greater cause," Suraj Subba, the general secretary of the union, said.

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