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30 Jun 2018

Tea strike for minimum pay

BIRESWAR BANERJEE, TT, Jun 30, 2018 Siliguri: The Joint Forum, an apex body of tea unions in north Bengal that does not include Trinamul affiliates, has called a three-day strike in the region's gardens next month to press for minimum wages to be fixed by the state government.

The announcement has worried planters who fear huge losses as July, one of the monsoon months, is peak production time.

"We have decided to observe a strike in tea gardens in the plains of north Bengal from July 23 to July 25. On July 25, we appeal to residents of the tea-producing areas to observe a 12-hour general strike because the state is delaying fixing and implementing the minimum wage rate," said Ziaur Alam, convenor of the forum.

For Trinamul union leaders, the strike represents a "Catch-22" situation as they will have to decide whether to join the protest and go against the government, or stay out of it and risk antagonising workers.

The forum has kept the hill gardens out of the purview of the strike. Last year, the hill gardens had suffered huge losses because of the 104-day shutdown over the statehood demand. "In the hills, there will be protests and demonstrations in tea gardens over the same demand. However, there will not be any strike," Alam said on Friday.

Ahead of the strike, there will be a series of protests and rallies from July 2 to highlight the demand.

Planters expressed concern. "Production reaches its peak during the monsoon months and a sudden halt in activities means huge losses. We hope trade union leaders understand the situation and give a second thought to their decision (to go on strike)," said S. Guhathakurta, secretary of the Dooars branch of the Indian Tea Association.

The Dooars and the Terai account for a quarter of the annual tea output in the country. Around 12 per cent of the tea is produced in July.

Asked about the strike, Trinamul-backed unions said they would finalise their stand. "We will have a meeting on Saturday to discuss the issue. There, we will make a decision and plan our further course of action," said Mohan Sharma, chairman, Cha Bagan Trinamul Congress Mazdoor Union.

Additional reporting by Anirban Choudhury in Alipurduar

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