On the second day of their three-day strike over minimum wage, tea garden workers held rallies across North Bengal Wednesday while social activists spoke up in their support, calling their demands “absolutely justified”.
A strike was called by the Joint Forum of Tea Garden Workers for a hike in minimum wage. A meeting between members of the forum and state government officials to negotiate their demands held Tuesday was inconclusive as tea garden owners were absent. The forum also rejected the government’s proposal to hike minimum wage from Rs 159 to Rs 172. The forum has demanded minimum daily wage of Rs 239 besides payment for electricity, clothing and education of children.
Social activist and state committee member of the Paschimbanga Khet Mazdoor Samiti, Anuradha Talwar said, “It is an absolutely justified demand, a long standing one of tea garden workers. Both the government and tea garden owners must give these workers a living wage. What they get now is a starvation wage. We are in full support of this strike.”
Another meeting is slated to be held on August 13, where all stakeholders have been asked to remain present. “We will press our demands once again before the state government and tea garden owners,” said a member of the Joint Forum.
“The government has to take a stand to ensure they get a survival rate, Rs 159 is not a survival wage. It should be equal to the minimum wage in the agricultural sector, which is Rs 234 now. At least that much they should get. The industrial workers get much more, close to Rs 300. There should be a parity in minimum wages for all these workers,” Talwar added.
Victor Basu, a member of the Dooars Jagron, an organisation that works with tea estates, said, “The profit of tea garden industries is not that high nowadays. Workers and owners will have to negotiate minimum wage. In my opinion, other benefits besides the minimum wage must be extended to them in order to help them come out of this crisis.”
State Labour Minister Malay Ghatak was not available for comment. The strike could result in an estimated loss of Rs 38-40 crore to the industry, the Tea Association of India (TAI) said, according to a PTI report.