Kerala: 4,000 tea workers protest bonus cut, keep unions out in Munnar

In a state known for influential trade union leaders, no politicians are leading the agitation from the front.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: September 9, 2015 2:25 am
munnar, munnar tea estate, kerala news Tea estate workers of Kannan Devan Hills Plantations Limited in Munnar protest against a cut in bonus rates. (Source: Indian Express)

Without the support of trade unions or their leaders, 4,000-odd tea estate workers of Kannan Devan Hills Plantations Limited (formerly Tata Tea) filled the streets of Munnar hill station in Kerala for the third day on Tuesday, demanding an increase in bonus and daily wages. A major chunk of the agitators were women deployed for plucking tea leaves in the estate.

In a state known for influential trade union leaders, no politicians are leading the agitation from the front. The protesters have not allowed their union leaders of AITUC, CITU and INTUC (of CPI, CPM and Congress, respectively) to join the stir against reducing the bonus to 10 per cent. On Sunday, the workers had attacked the offices of the trade unions. Subsequently, union leaders have gone into hiding. Normal life in Munnar, a major tourist destination in Kerala, was also hit due to the stir. On Tuesday, women workers have started pouring onto the streets of Munnar.

The women alleged that the trade union leaders had colluded with the management of the Kannan Devan Hills Plantations Limited (KDHP) to deny them 20 per cent bonus. The women workers did not allow the BJP to intervene in the issue, although the party has called for a dawn-to-dusk bandh in Idukki district on Tuesday.

Devikulam sub-collector P Rajeev, who lead the conciliatory talks, said “the agitation has no leaders. Workers, mostly women, have spontaneously hit the streets. They have brought Munnar to standstill, apart from holding the senior officials of the KDHP as hostages on Monday. The agitators want 20 per cent bonus, but the company is willing to pay only 10 per cent. The labour commissioner has convened a meeting on Tuesday to find a solution,’’ said the sub-collector.

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The estate management said the tea industry has been going through a severe crisis. The company was forced to reduce the bonus from 20 per cent to 10 per cent this year due to the fall in the profit.

The company said the decision to reduce the bonus was taken after consulting the trade union leaders. The company incurred a fall in its income by 68 percent in 2014-’15 compared to the previous year. In the past year, the company’s profit plunged to Rs 4.2 crore owing to the international fall in the prices of tea. The decision to provide 10 percent of bonus was taken in the annual meeting of the company, it said.

The KDHP has 13,000 workers in its rolls, most of them women engaged in plucking tea leaves. The workers have 68 per cent of the share of the KDHP, while 18 per cent is held by Tata Tea. The remaining 14 per cent is held by a trust and others.

Sources said the ordinary workers have only 300 shares each with a face value of Rs 10. At the same time, the officers in the company own a major part of the shares given to the workers. Hence, workers were missing the sentiments that they were co-owners of the company.

When Tata Tea divested its stake, the estate was running at an annual loss of Rs 8 crore. However, changing fortunes in the tea sector in the second half of the last decade improved the situation. In 2009, the KDHP had made a profit of Rs 41 crore.

In the earlier years after the formation of the KDHP, the company had claimed that making the workers part of the firm has given them a greater sense of responsibility. However, the revisit of crisis in the tea sector changed the situation and turned the ordinary workers hostile against the management.

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  1. K
    Kaliyug
    Sep 9, 2015 at 6:08 am
    If Tata gives a bonus then it is only due to good management and their big heart. There is no promise of jobs when you are born, one has to study, learn, behave and make sure the employer is profitable. Foolish women just dont want to work.
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    1. K
      Kaliyug
      Sep 9, 2015 at 6:05 am
      Kerala is a literate state and so the women expect to be paid better. While tea is a profitable crop there seems to be a lot of players and growers. The women cannot omly strike and cause disruption, Tata Tea to can move to another location. The best place for Kerala people is the Gulf, they seem to work hard and never go on strike. The Saudi stick works good on Keralite backs.
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      1. Z
        Zinan
        Sep 10, 2015 at 2:10 pm
        I think you have mistaken, Bonus isn't given because of their big hearts. If the company gets profit, it gives bonus, & who do you think is responsible for the company's profit? probably the workers itself, So how could you say the women asking for their right to get paid as foolishness. Go check Tata's stock values and profit details, was there any loss in the recent past Find me one, & I will go with your opinion, I'm saying it cause I'm against half knowledge. Don't just move with it rather, think deeply with common sense. Mostly, the workers are going to withdraw and claim, their shares, let's see what is gonna happen then. This isn't the old times dude, people have improved, It's not just easy to fool around.
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        1. Z
          Zinan
          Sep 10, 2015 at 2:29 pm
          Place at least some critical thinking here, Do you even think it's that easy for Tata to move to another location, by simply closing up the factories, & leaving behind 24000 hectares of tea land? It's not so easy especially to find suitable climate for growing tea crops. The company won't just close up the factories & move to another location, it will only incur vast losses. And pleas note Saudi sticks doesn't seem to be working good on Keralite backs, maybe it could have worked but not anymore.
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          1. P
            priynk
            Sep 8, 2015 at 5:33 pm
            there conditions are worse whereas the tea plants have earned good profits, it is the duty of the employer to see that his employees are having adequate conditions to live. It is the duty of the state to punish those who aren't doing it.
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