Four days after Sree Hanuman Jute Mills downed shutters in Howrah citing non-availability of cash, Tirrihannah Tea Estate in north Bengal suspended operations throwing about 1,500 workers out of jobs.
About 2,500 workers lost their jobs on Monday when the jute mill authorities announced their decision to close down.
The reasons were the same in both instances -- the workers could not be paid as they are traditionally paid in cash.
About 3.5 lakh workers in tea gardens in north Bengal get their wages in cash. Their daily wage is Rs 132.50. A garden can pay its workers either weekly or fortnightly. Tirrihannah authorities practised the latter.
“The wage payment could not be made as demonetisation effect,” read the notice issued by the management.
The management of the tea estate located under Naxalbari block in Darjeeling district has its head office in Kolkata. They declared ‘suspension of work’ from Friday after workers turned restive when the management failed to make wage payments in the lack of cash.
The workers got their payment on November 25 and another payment was due on Wednesday.
With the RBI guidelines making it difficult for the management to withdraw cash from the banks, the management expressed its inability to make the payment on the due date. The workers and trade unions stopped the dispatch of tea from the factory on Wednesday and Thursday. The authorities also alleged that the manager was heckled by the workers on Wednesday.
Last night all the managerial staff abandoned the tea estate without informing the Tea Association of India (TAI). Sumit Ghosh the secretary of TAI Terai branch said, “Though Tirrihannah Tea Estate is our member, the management did not inform us about its decision to suspend operations. We have not been able to contact Amlan Kusum Gorai the manager of the tea estate,” Ghosh told HT.
This correspondent’s efforts to contact Gorai also failed.
Incidentally, Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is the political leader who is most vocal in protesting the demonetisation decision.
Though small business establishments reported great inconvenience leading to loss of jobs in the inorganised sectors, this is the second big bang closure of an industrial unit in the state.
A letter sent to the Bengdubi branch of the State Bank of India on November 14 by the manager of Tirrihannah Tea Estate warned of law and order troubles unless sufficient cash is made available to the management for wage payment.
The decision of closure is bound to fuel the criticism of chief minister Mamata Banerjee who is trying to organise opposition all over the country against the demonetisation move of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Many tea planters told HT, “Unless sufficient cash is made available, many tea gardens would be forced to close down.”
Joint labour commissioner Samir Kumar Bose said, “We are keeping watch on the tea gardens and the workers and trade unions have been very cooperative.” Bose also said that he has been unable to contact with the management. “Whether the suspension of work was triggered by unavailability of cash from the bank or due to the unavailability of their own fund is not clear,” said Bose.
Trade union leader, however, took a different view. “Though the immediate reason for the shut down seems to be demonetisation, the management has the habit of defaulting the wage payment on different pretexts,” said Aloke Chakraborty, general secretary of National Union of Plantation workers Terai branch.
Abijit Majumdar the working president of Terai Sangrami Cha Sramik Union said, “The management had been defaulting the statutory rights of the workers since the time of Puja payment in October.”