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23 Dec 2017

Interim tea pay proposal

BIRESWAR BANERJEE Dec 23, 2017 Siliguri: A tripartite meeting to fix revised wages for tea garden workers convened by the state labour department at Uttarkanya here failed yield any result, much to the disappointment of the state officials and state labour minister Moloy Ghatak.

Ghatak, who was present at the meeting, finally proposed to the trade unions that an interim daily wage rate of Rs 150 should be fixed for the workers which would be revised in due course after the state fixes the minimum wage rate for the industry. This interim rate, he said, can be made applicable from January 1 next year.

Most of the trade unions did not agree to the proposal and instead, threatened to launch a movement, while pressing over the demand to fix minimum wages.

As of now, tea workers, whether in the hills or in the plains, receive a daily wage of Rs 132.50.

"The meeting was significant as the state wants to resolve the tea wage issue ahead of the upcoming rural polls. Trinamul leaders and state ministers are well aware that if no decision is reached ahead of the elections, other political parties and their tea trade unions would make it an issue in the campaign. That is why the labour minister wanted the trade unions to agree to an interim wage hike of Rs 17.5," said an observer.

As the proposal did not work, the state will have to explore new strategies to solve the problem, he said.

Ghatak mentioned that representatives of tea planters' associations had assured him that they would make a decision over the proposed wage rate within a week.

But leaders of the Joint Forum, an umbrella organisation of 24 tea trade unions, are not ready to accept it and in fact, have labelled it is as a "move made in favour of tea planters ahead of the panchayat polls."

"We have discussed issues related to tea workers' wages and proposed that planters pay Rs 150 to workers from January next year. We will hold a meeting with the representatives of the minimum wages advisory board here on January 4 and one week later, there will be another tripartite meeting to finalise over fixation of the interim wage rate that would applicable unless the minimum wage is fixed," said Ghatak.

Ziaur Alam, convener, Joint Forum, however, said the proposal couldn't be accepted.

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