Siliguri, July 26: The tea union of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad today started an indefinite embargo on the despatch of tea from gardens in the Dooars and the Terai to demand a revision in workers’ wages, the agitation coming at a time the price of the produce has plummeted because of over-production this year.
There are fears that the price will come down further as the market will be awash with manufactured tea if the embargo is lifted after a prolonged period.
The Progressive Tea Workers’ Union had announced earlier that it would stop the despatch of tea for only today and tomorrow and a decision would be taken on July 29 whether to continue with the embargo.
The union, which is dominant in almost 208 gardens in the Dooars and the Terai, wants the daily wage to be increased from Rs 67 to Rs 250.
“Our supporters have started halting the despatch of tea from gardens across the plains. We have decided that the agitation will continue for an indefinite period unless our demand is met,” said Baijnath Naik, the general secretary of the Progressive Union.
“A general strike will be observed in the Dooars and the Terai on July 28 as we announced yesterday. We want to clarify that no vehicle carrying tea will be allowed to leave the estates. If vehicles loaded with tea are found outside the gardens, it would be stopped at the very spot. We will not allow the vehicle to move an inch till the wage is hiked,” said Naik.
The planters fear the embargo would cripple the tea sector, already hit by a higher production and less exports.
“Tea price is coming down by Rs 4-5 at every auction because of a surge in the supply and dip in exports. In case the embargo continues for a fortnight, the garden owners will face a financial crisis. We are apprehensive about law and order problems as some planters might find it difficult to pay the labourers their wages,” said K.K. Mintri, a planter and a member of the Tea Association of India.
Leaders of the Parishad union, however, refused to buy the theory. “Workers get regular payments even during the lean season (winter months). If any unpleasant situation crops up because of the non-payment of wages, the management will be held responsible,” said the Progressive Union general secretary.
The stakeholders of the tea sector said business worth Rs 20 crore would be hit everyday during the embargo.
The traders pointed out that the price of the produce would come down further once the embargo was withdrawn. “The market is flush with CTC tea now because of higher supply and less exports. As there is a halt in the supply because of the embargo now, the excess tea might be sold off. But once the strike is withdrawn, each garden will desperately try to clear its stock and earn money. This would lead to accumulation of tea in the market and further decrease in the price,” said Ankit Lochan, a tea merchant and exporter based in Siliguri.
Figures with the Tea Board of India show that the total production in the Terai and the Dooars was 47,560 thousand kg during January-May period in 2010. During the same period this year, the production has been 50,491 thousand kg, of which, 32,284 thousand kg accounted for April and May. Exports, on the other hand, are less compared to last year.
When the auctions began this season, 1kg of CTC tea was sold at Rs 130-135. But the price gradually came down and the brew fetches Rs 120 now.
Frequent demonstrations organised by two apex bodies of more than 30 other trade unions for the wage hike have already put pressure on the planters. They have already called a strike from August 10 to 12 to force the garden owners to come forward with a proposal for the revised wage.
The state labour department has decided convene a tripartite meeting — the fourth rounds of talks — in Calcutta on August 4. “All trade unions have been asked to defer their agitation till that date when the issue of wage can be resolved,” said a labour official.Courtesy:TheTelegraph.