Tea garden unrest threat in hills over bonus issue

DARJEELING
26 Sep 2018

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-backed trade union -- Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union -- has warned of an unprecedented situation arising in the tea gardens of the Darjeeling hills because of the failure of the
management to pay the puja bonus on time.
DTDPLU said that the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) had made it clear that it would only give bonus at 8.33 percent according to provision applicable in the Payment of Bonus Act of 1965 and that no negotiation and meeting would be convened for discussion. “It is a tradition that DTA calls a bonus meeting with operating trade unions ahead of the Puja festival. We respect the Bonus Act but
the rate of 8.33 per cent is unacceptable. We will not budge from the existing 20 percent rate,” said DTDPLU general secretary Bharat Thakuri.
On Wednesday DTDPLU received a letter from the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) which is the umbrella organization of the 87 tea gardens of the hills along with the Indian Tea Association (ITA). The DTA letter stated that the gardens had faced 70 per cent loss of production and revenue last year due to the 104-day strike for a
separate state. DTA pointed out that because of these reasons it was unable to enter into any negotiated settlement as in previous years.
The letter also stated that it had complied with the recent increase in wages and salaries as notified by the Labour Department which had aggravated the financial crises of the industry. Neither had the Darjeeling tea industry received any financial assistance or concession from the Tea Board of India, the State Government or the Centre to tide over the situation.
In a retaliatory move, DTDPLU warned of unrest in the tea gardens and requested the DTA and ITA immediately to call the bonus meeting. “The management on various pretexts avoids giving workers their fringe benefits and wages on time. We overlook this to keep things under control. But this (8.33 percent bonus) is degrading the workers. We will not accept anything less than 20 percent. Otherwise the management will have to be responsible for any unprecedented situation arising in the gardens,” said DTDPLU president Karuna Gurung.
Over the years after bipartite negotiations, workers were receiving bonus at 20 percent. However, last year, due to the agitation, bonus was given at 19.75 percent.
DTDPLU Darjeleing sub-division president Balam Tamang appealed to other operating trade unions to raise voice for a bonus meeting. “Let us forget our political allegiance and come together to thwart this attempt by the management. We must work for the benefits of the workers,” he said. Out of the 87 hill tea gardens, 62 gardens are members of DTA while 25 are under ITA. (EOIC)