Tea estate workers demand minimum wages under norms

Kolkata, Jan 8 (IANS) With the West Bengal government willing to start negotiations with tea estate workers over fixing minimum wages, a forum of independent trade unions Wednesday demanded that remuneration be fixed on a scientific and legal basis.

Observing that the nearly three lakh tea estate workers in the state are denied basic amenities because of poor wages, United Tea Workers Front (UTWF) – a forum of five independent trade unions – demanded that minimum wages be calculated, based on the 15th Indian Labour Conference (ILC) norms as well as Supreme Court (SC) guidelines.
“Admitting that the condition of tea garden workers was horrible, state Labour Minister Purnendu Bose has talked of negotiations for fixing minimum wages. But we want that talks not only be finalised by March 31, when the current wage contracts expire, but also that wages be fixed based on ILC and SC norms,” UTWF convener Anuradha Talwar told reporters here.
“There have always been talks, but this time we don’t want hollow promises and assurances. The minimum wages must be fixed according to ILC and SC norms, which when calculated, come to Rs.322 (a day). But at present, workers get anything between Rs.65- 95,” said Talwar.
The forum Tuesday met Bose and submitted a memorandum of its demands.
The forum also claimed that death due to starvation and malnutrition was a regular feature in nearly 200 tea estates across North Bengal.
“While our untiring labour allows tea gardens owners to earn huge profits, the workers’ life has traditionally been miserable. Over the years, there have been more than 3,500 starvation deaths. Even last year, there were eight such deaths in Bandapani tea estate (Jalpaiguri district) said P.T. Sherpa of the Front.
The Front has also planned mass meetings and deputations in January and February to press for its demands, including inclusion of the workers in the Scheduled Employments under the Minimum Wages Act, transparency in the deductions from wages, strict enforcement of social security schemes and laws and extending wage and non-wage benefits to seasonal workers, among others.
The UTWF has also called upon all other unions for coordination to make a collective bargaining agreement.