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21 Jul 2018

Parties vie for minimum pay credit

Vivek Chhetri, TT, Jul 21, 2018, Darjeeling: All political parties in the hills are jumping the gun to ensure that they get the credit once the Bengal government announces minimum wages for tea garden workers.

The Trinamul Congress, which does not have much sway over tea trade workers in the hills, however, is lying low but with the state government backing the demand of the minimum wages, there is every possibility that the ruling party will have the last laugh.

Tea plantation workers in the hills and across north Bengal now get a daily wage of Rs 159.

The demand for the implementation of minimum wages has resulted in a rat race after the state government recently announced that some decision would be taken at a tripartite meeting involving the administration, planters and unions at Uttarkanya - a branch of the state secretariat, in Siliguri on July 30.

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-affiliated Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union on Friday organised a gate meeting in all tea gardens of the hills to apprise the workers of the initiative to implement the minimum wages.

"Gate meetings have been organised at all places. We want immediate implementation of minimum wages," said Karuna Gurung, the president of the DTDPLU.

The Morcha's trade union of late is increasingly distancing itself from the Joint Forum - a conglomeration of 24 trade unions.

The Joint Forum, too, had announced gate meetings in all hill tea gardens on Friday. The announcement of the DDTPLU had come after the Joint Forum's announcement.

Following the July 30 assurance from the state government, the Joint Forum has suspended its three-day agitation, which included a general strike in the plains of north Bengal, later this month.

The Joint Forum supporters on Friday also organised gate meetings in different gardens in the hills.

Saman Pathak, a former Rajya Sabha member of the CPM and a leader of the Joint Forum, was present in the Thurbo tea garden in Mirik during the gate meeting on Friday.

"We organised the gate meeting to apprise the worker s of the latest development. We are willing to wait till July 30 but we don't have much trust with the government or the tea management. However, if nothing concrete comes up in the July 30 meeting, we will announce a greater agitation," said Pathak.

Observers believe that both the Morcha, which is the predominant party in the hills and the Joint Forum will try and seek credit if the state government takes a positive step for implementation of minimum wages.

"Everyone (Morcha and Joint Forum) is trying to take credit and even though Trinamul has not organised any events in the hills given that it has much to do in terms of strengthening its organisational base in tea gardens, TMC might have the last laugh as they are in the government," said an observer.

There are more than 55,000 permanent workers apart from an additional 15,000 temporary workers, who are employed in the 86 hill gardens which can sell their produce as Darjeeling tea.

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