Siliguri/Alipurduar, July 25: Workers today stopped a truck loaded with tea from leaving the Karala Valley garden in Jalpaiguri, an act that dominant garden unions have threatened to carry out across all estates in the Dooars and Terai from tomorrow if their demand for a wage hike is not met.
The truck was allowed to leave an hour later though the Progressive Tea Workers’ Union — the workers’ body of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad — said the “bar on the despatch of tea would be total from tomorrow”.
Today, PTWU members across 158 gardens in the Dooars and 50 in the Terai demonstrated against the managements for not agreeing to their demand for a daily wage of Rs 250.
The leaders of the PTWU — the dominant trade union in the Dooars and Terai gardens — said they would stop the despatch of tea from estates from tomorrow and would observe a general strike in the region on July 28, if no decision was reached on the revised wages in the next two days. The current daily wage in the plains gardens is Rs 67. In the last meeting that was held, the planters had agreed to an annual increment of Rs 8 for three years, which had been rejected by the trade unions.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-backed Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union, which has managed to clinch a deal of Rs 90 a day for hill garden workers, has also joined the PTWU in its agitation. According to sources in the tea industry, if the threat to stop the despatch of tea is carried out, then the loss would be around Rs 20 crore a day for the Dooars and the Terai sector.
“Even though the despatch depends on the orders received by each garden, it is the peak season now. Given the trend of production and sale, it can be said that on an average eight tonnes of tea (that is 8,000kg) is despatched from each of the 208 gardens everyday,” a senior representative of a tea planters’ association said.
“As of now, the average auction price of CTC tea is Rs 120 a kg, which means in total, the industry would face a transaction loss of Rs 19.88 crore everyday and of course, the proportionate loss in profit,” he said.
Another veteran of the Bengal tea industry said if the bar on the despatch of tea continued for a fortnight, it would affect domestic markets like Calcutta. “The loss that we would count on every single day is substantial. Now if this agitation to stop the despatch of tea continues for 15 days or beyond it, it is natural that there would be shortage of CTC tea manufactured in Terai and Dooars in the domestic market,” he said. “It would also cause problem for exporters who send CTC brews to other countries.”
Shukra Munda, the chairperson of the PTWU, said his union had been organising hour-long meetings in front of garden gates since last week. “Today was the last day of such agitation and from tomorrow, we would not allow tea packages to move outside gardens. The bar on the despatch of tea would be total from tomorrow. If no decision is reached in the next two days, we will observe a one-day general strike in the Terai and Dooars on July 28,” Munda said. “Further decisions on movements from July 29 and onwards would be taken in due time.”
In Karala, PTWU supporters stopped a vehicle which was coming out of the garden, loaded with tea packets. “It was detained for an hour as our agitation was in progress. Later, it was allowed to go,” said a garden worker.
Workers who are members of over 30 other trade unions, including the Intuc and the Citu, which are affiliated to either of the two apex bodies – Defence Committee for Plantation Workers’ Rights and Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers —launched gate meetings in the gardens.
“We will carry on with a similar agitation for a week and wait to see whether there is any response from the owners’ side. If there is no development, we will observe a strike in the tea industry for three days starting August 10,” said Aloke Chakraborty, the Darjeeling district Intuc president.
With a standoff looming, planters said they were eager for an early settlement. “We had discussions but could not reach a consensus,” Monojit Dasgupta, the secretary general of Indian Tea Association, said over phone from Calcutta. “Nevertheless, we are eager for an early settlement and waiting for the next round of tripartite talks to be convened by the state labour department. Our appeal to workers is that as talks are pending, they should refrain from agitations and carry out regular works as any agitation or strike would only affect the industry.”
State labour minister Purnendu Bose said his department has taken cognisance of the issue. “I have personally met both planters and trade union representatives and if required, I will talk to them again,” Bose said.
State labour commissioner Amal Roychoudhury, who had presided in all the rounds of tripartite talks, held in Siliguri and Calcutta since March end, said the next meeting is likely to be called in the first week of August.Courtesy=TheTelegraph.