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1 Jul 2018

TMC shuns tea strike

ANIRBAN CHOUDHURY, TT,  Jul 01, 2018, Alipurduar: Tea union leaders of Trinamul on Saturday announced an array of agitation programmes over the demand for minimum wages but made it clear that they would not call any shutdown or support the three-day strike announced by Joint Forum (an apex body of other tea trade unions) in July.

"We will organise several programmes in tea gardens and in front of the central government offices of north Bengal on the issue of minimum wages. The Centre has a major role to play, so far as fixation of minimum wages are concerned. Also, the Centre needs to amend the Plantation Labour Act that governs the terms of service in tea industry," said Mohan Sharma, chairman, Cha Bagan Trinamul Mazdoor Union.

"There is no question of supporting the three-day strike. We will meet workers and apprise them as how it can affect their industry," added Sharma.

The decision by Trinamul leaders comes a day after the Forum announced the strike and some other programmes. Such programmes will commence from July 2.

The announcement had left Trinamul trade union leaders in a fix as on one hand, a decision to support the strike would have left senior party leaders displeased while on the other hand, complete silence on their part would have sent a wrong message to the tea population.

"That is why they have chosen a middle path by lining up programmes parallel to the Joint Forum's plan but have decided not to participate or support the three-day strike. The idea is to disseminate the message among the workforce that they are working on their issues and simultaneously, keep a safe distance from Forum," said a political observer.

The Trinamul-backed trade unions, who held a meeting in Damdim, near Malbazar in Jalpaiguri, have decided that on July 6, 7 & 9, they will organise meetings at the gates of each tea estate. Also, from July 6, posters, placards and banners would be put in the tea gardens over the demand of minimum wages.

On July 9, Sharma, along with tea workers, will launch a 24-hour hunger strike at the tea board's office in Siliguri while on July 16 there will be demonstrations against the Centre in all central government offices located in the tea belt.

"There will be rail roko on the same day in different locations," said a source.

Trinamul insiders said they had to make the decision as otherwise, rivals like the BJP and the Left would have tried to exploit the situation.

"In June last year, the chief minister had categorically mentioned that the two-day strike called by Joint Forum did not help the industry and its workers. Instead, it led to losses. Also, it is a known fact that unless the Plantation Labour Act is amended by the Centre, it is tough to implement a minimum wage rate in Bengal's tea industry," said a senior Trinamul leader based in the Dooars.

This is because as per the PL Act, planters are liable to provide a number of amenities to workers, which if monetised, is over Rs 100 per worker per day. Tea unions want a minimum wage of Rs 300 or more, double the current rate.

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