ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Wages of Tea Plantation Workers

After prolonged tripartite wage negotiations, tea plantation workers of West Bengal fi nally reached a wage agreement last February. However, the wages in the new agreement continue to be below statutory minimum levels and are almost half the wages that plantation workers receive in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Plantations in West Bengal and Assam continue to prosper even as they deny workers humane conditions of work that are mandated by the Plantations Labour Act 1951.

After negotiations for more than a year, tea plantation workers in West Bengal, numbering over 3,00,000, have got an increase in their wages. The Memorandum of Settlement was signed on 20 February 2015 by the three concerned parties—the employers’ associations, the trade unions, and the state government represented by the labour commissioner. The state labour minister and the minister in charge of North Bengal were also present. The labour unions have been pressing for revision in wages soon after the previous three-year agreement expired on 31 March 2014. The employers refused to entertain any increase and stated arrogantly that if the unions undertook militant activities such as strikes or go-slows they would close the industry. The employers maintained in all meetings called by the government that the industry was in crisis and that they could not afford to increase costs by increasing wages. According to the memorandum, the state government had convened eight tripartite meetings since 25 February 2014, and in all meetings, the employers refused to budge. The workers went on strike on 22–23 November 2014 to press for their demands. The strike was supported by all trade unions in the three tea-growing regions except for those affiliated to the ruling party’s Indian National Trinamool Trade Union Congress. There were also many demonstrations and public meetings to press for increases in wages. The agreement may come as some relief for the impoverished, marginalised tea workers, but a critical look will show that workers have once again been short-changed.

Terms of Settlement

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