Jaigaon/Siliguri,The recent hike in the daily wage of the hill tea workers has made trade unions and planters in the plains jittery. The trade unions are under pressure to clinch the same Rs 90 deal for the 2.5 lakh workers in the Dooars and the Terai, and the planters fear they will have to pay the higher rate from the current Rs 67. On March 31, the day the three-year wage agreement of the tea gardens expired, the labour unions of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, the CPRM and the Congress managed to clinch a hike of Rs 23 for workers in the Darjeeling hills. “For the past 20 years or so, workers across the north Bengal tea industry have been getting wages at the same rate because it was fixed through industry wide negotiations at the tripartite level,” a trade union leader said. “Now that the hill gardens are paying Rs 90 to their workers, those in plains will not let their leaders fix their revised wages at anything lower than Rs 90 a day.” At a tripartite meeting in Siliguri on March 29, the plains trade unions had already demanded that the daily wages be increased from Rs 67 to Rs 165. “However, this sudden bipartite agreement in the hills has affected the process of negotiation. We do not endorse it, as it has been signed after deviating from the usual process to fix wage for the entire tea industry of the region,” said Chitta Dey, convener of the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers, the apex body of tea trade unions including Citu, Intuc and UTUC. By “deviation” Dey was referring to the “bipartite” nature of the hill agreement in which the labour department was not a party to the deal. “It has left us concerned as there is always a risk because workers in the Terai and the Dooars, who receive Rs 67 per day now, might resort to agitation, while demanding wages at the same rate as in the hills. They might not listen to us and it is natural that whenever we negotiate on the rates, we have to keep the revised rate of hills in mind,” said Dey. The CCTPW, which plays a key role in fixing the wages and other benefits for labourers, has called an emergency meeting of its constituents to discuss the issue. The Adivasi Vikas Parishad backed Progressive Tea Workers’ Union, on the other hand, has refused to accept the hill rate as target. “We have asked for a daily wage of Rs 250 and there is no question of considering the agreement forged in the hills as our demand is higher,” said Shukra Munda, the chairperson of the Adivasi union. “Once the Assembly polls are over, we will renew movement on this issue.” The pressure lies more on the planters. A number of garden owners in the plains said it was not possible for them to pay daily wages at the rate of Rs 90. “Given our present financial condition, if workers demand this rate we would be forced to close down our gardens,” a planter said. “Our tea sells at a much lower price than Darjeeling tea. Hill garden owners are richer than us because they sell a premier quality of branded tea.” Courtesy:TheTelegraph.