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Labourers working in tea plantations in Assam and West Bengal should get the notified minimum wages and not according to other calculations as is prevalent now, Nirmala Sitharaman, union minister of state (independent charge) for commerce and industry asserted here today.
Presiding a marathon discussion with various levels of stake-holders of the country’s tea industry, Sitharaman also dismissed the practice of negotiations between some labour unions and the industry, and insisted that labourers should get what has been notified as minimum wages.
She also described as unwarranted the practice of adding non-cash benefits extended to the labourers in the Assam gardens to the cash component of minimum wages, and asked the state government to ensure that the plantation workers were paid the actual notified wages. “The tea garden owners have various issues which the government is ready to address, but there will be no compromise on minimum wages to tea workers,” she said.
Representatives of some labour unions pointed out to her during the day-long consultation that tea plantation labourers in Assam were getting only Rs 94 per day, whereas their counterparts in southern states like Kerala get Rs 254. Even the state government rate of unskilled daily wage workers stood at Rs 169, she was told.
Later, speaking to the media, Sitharaman said that the Centre would ensure that tea plantation workers in Assam got full benefit of major central flagships programmes of healthcare, sanitation, safe drinking water and nutrition as other rural people do. The 800-odd big tea estates in Assam employ about five lakh permanent workers, while about six lakh more are engaged as temporary and seasonal workers.
Assam industry and commerce minister Pradyut Bordoloi, who read out chief minister Tarun Gogoi in his absence, pointed out that though tea workers and their families constitute a sizable chunk of the state’s population, their socio-economic conditions were comparatively worse than the average population due to a variety of reasons.
“Their Human Development Index particularly in the fields of education, healthcare, maternal mortality, infant mortality, malnutrition etc. is on the much lower side. The housing, sanitation, water supply in the residential areas of tea estates for permanent workers needs much improvement. The living conditions of temporary workers are poorer. They are deprived from housing. They get foodgrains only for temporary period and their dependents do not get rations like temporary workers,” Bordoloi said.
Earlier, representatives of small tea growers pleaded before the central minister to intervene in the matter of better price for green leaf. “The major companies that have factories simply dictate terms and force the homestead tea growers to accept whatever price they fix,” the delegation told the minister.
Of the 81,058 registered tea growers in Assam, as many as 80,293 are small tea growers having individual plantation area up to 10.12 hectares, and their production has progressively increased from 26.25% in 2008 to around 30% in 2013.