Tea garden workers on strike over money

August 11th, 2008 - 9:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Aug 11 (IANS) Tea garden workers in West Bengal went on a strike Monday demanding a hike of Rs.42 in their daily wages. The strike was called by the Coordination Committee of Plantation Workers (CCPW), which is an umbrella organisation of 17 labour unions.

“We went on a token strike to protest against the rigid attitude of the management (tea garden owners). They are not ready to revise the current wages of the workers. If they don’t listen to our demand we will go on a strike from Aug 18,” said Aloke Chakraborty, joint general secretary of the National Union of Plantation Workers.

The National Union of Plantation Workers is one of the constituents of CCPW.

Chakraborty said: “We had put forward a demand to raise the daily wages of the tea garden workers by Rs.42. But the management is extremely rigid. They are ready for a hike of only Rs.11.10.”

At present, the tea workers get Rs.53.90 a day. If the union demands are met, a daily wager would get approximately Rs.124 per day.

“To ease the negotiation process we even said that a hike of Rs.15 per day would suffice but the management is not ready to listen to that also,” Chakraborty said. “We did not want to go for the strike but the management compelled us.”

However, tea garden owners have a different viewpoint. Aditya Khaitan, chairman of Indian Tea Association (ITA) and managing director of McLeod Russel, said: “The cost of production is going up in the region while the sales are dropping. The demand for wage revision has to be practical.”

Exports of Darjeeling tea were expected to rise by 20-25 percent over last year’s six million kilograms. Now the industry is staring at substantial losses - hit by the statehood unrest in the hills and the strike for higher wages.

Tea from Darjeeling accounts for seven percent of India’s tea exports and the 350 gardens in the region employ a workforce of nearly 350,000.

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