Labour minister to tour gardens to ensure benefits for workers
Siliguri,: Labour minister Purnendu Bose said today the daily wage of workers in tea gardens of the Dooars and the Terai should be fixed at a minimum of Rs 90 and he would visit north Bengal to see the living condition of tea labourers.
Tea workers in the plains are paid Rs 67 a day at present, but a new wage deal was supposed to come into effect on April 1. A meeting convened by the state labour department here yesterday to fix the new wage remained inconclusive as trade unions rejected the planters’ offer of Rs 5 hike.
“Our (labour) officers have rejected the planters’ offer outright and have asked them to come with a better proposal in the coming days,” said Bose.
The minister noted that tea estates and unions in the Darjeeling hills had reached on an agreement in April to revise the wage from Rs 67 to Rs 90.
“The government feels planters in the Dooars and the Terai should think of fixing the wage at Rs 90 or a higher amount. It has to be ensured that tea workers should also get a minimum wage of Rs 162-165 like other labourers in the state,” Bose told The Telegraph over phone from Calcutta.
In fact, no minimum wage has been fixed for workers in the state and the Rs 162-165 the minister referred to was an amount recommended by the previous Left government
“The erstwhile Left Front government had made certain recommendations on fixing minimum wage for workers. To my knowledge, the minimum wage recommended by them was Rs 162-165. We will check the files concerned and hope that the minimum wage is fixed soon,” said Bose.
Apart from the wages, a tea worker receives certain other benefits from estate owners under the Plantation Labour Act. “If these benefits are converted into monetary terms and are added to the existing wage, the remuneration comes around Rs 102-105. This should be increased to Rs 162-165, meaning a hike of around Rs 60,” said the minister.
The government is also worried about the living conditions of garden dwellers. The minister said the labourers often aired a lot of grievances and he would see that all benefits due to them were made available by the garden owners.
“During wage negotiations, planters always talk about the benefits they provide to the workers. However, we have information that several labour quarters are in pitiable condition, disbursement of ration is irregular, the hospitals and dispensaries do not function properly and there are not enough schools for children in the garden,” said Bose.
“I and labour department officials will visit north Bengal next month to know the real picture and will take necessary steps if lapses are noticed. We will not tolerate economic deprivation of the workers.”
Trade union leaders have welcomed the minister’s stand. “He seems to have a clear idea of the tea industry and the state of affairs,” said Alok Chakraborty, the Darjeeling district president of the Intuc. “We want the minister to take part in the wage talks for a positive outcome. If he can ensure that each worker and his family in the tea belt is given stipulated benefits, it would be another achievement.”
The Co-ordination Committee of Planters’ Associations has refused comment. “We would prefer to talk to the minister before making any comment,” said a CCPA office-bearerCourtesy:TheTelegraph.