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Saturday, Aug 24, 2019

Three-day strike begins in the tea gardens of the Terai and Dooars

As many as 0.28 million workers of 196 gardens stayed away from work

kolkata Updated: Aug 07, 2018 15:45 IST
Pramod Giri
Pramod Giri
Hindustan Times
Operations in the gardens in the foothills of the Himalayas in the Terai and Dooars region came to a standstill.
Operations in the gardens in the foothills of the Himalayas in the Terai and Dooars region came to a standstill.(HT Photo)

A three-day-long strike began in 196 tea gardens of Terai and the Dooars in north Bengal on Tuesday with a joint forum of 23 trade unions demanding revision of minimum wages. About 0.28 million workers have struck work.

The Terai and Dooars region accounted for 28.8% of the country’s tea production in 2017.

On Tuesday, hundreds of tea garden workers started marching from the Darjeeling hills, Terai and the Dooars towards the mini secretariat in Siliguri to press for the demand.

Read: Darjeeling tea gardens reel under bandh effect, workers migrate in search of livelihood

Though there are a total of 283 tea gardens in North Bengal employing almost 3.5 lakh workers, the shutdown has spared 87 gardens in Darjeeling that were closed for 104-days in 2017 due to the general strike demanding a separate state of Gorkhaland.

The last strike in the tea gardens of Terai and the Dooars was on June 12 and 13, 2017.

Right now a worker gets a daily wage of Rs 150 in addition to some fringe benefits.

July is the peak harvesting season for the tea industry in North Bengal. If the strike prolongs the planters who would suffer the most.

Read: Water from India is a poll issue in these tea gardens along the Bhutan border

The joint forum of trade unions announced the agitation on Monday afternoon after the meeting at the north Bengal secretariat to finalise minimum wages failed.

Two trade unions -- one affiliated to ruling Trinamool Congress and one affiliated to Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (Binay Tamang faction) are not in the forum and are opposing the strike.

Trade unions affiliated with CP(I)M, RSP, Forward Bloc, Congress, GJM (Bimal Gurung faction), GNLF, CPRM, Jan Andolan Party and many others are parts of the joint forum.

Read: ‘Good quality’ Nepal tea spoils Darjeeling’s party

The state government earlier announced that the revised minimum wages would be declared on July 30. However, it was postponed and the meeting was held on August 6.

“The state government proposed Rs 172 as daily minimum wage without explaining the rationale,” said Ziaur Alam the convenor of the joint forum of trade unions. On Monday, state government officials, too, walked out of the meeting. Alam claimed the action of the officials prompted the trade unions to call the strike.

Nakul Sonar and Nirjal Dey, two senior leaders of the trade unions affiliated with the Trinamool Congress said that their supporter workers would join duty. “A section of trade union leaders are creating trouble. The state government is trying to protect the interest for tea garden workers,” they claimed.

Read: Bengal tea cooperatives face government’s policy fix hurdle

“Though the gardens in the hills are out of the ambit of the strike, the workers in the hills would stop dispatch of tea from these gardens,” said Saman Pathak, president of Darjeeling Zilla Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union.

Pathak, who is also the former CPI (M) Rajya Sabha MP, said, “Hundreds of tea garden workers have started marching from the hills to Uttarkanya in Siliguri to demand minimum wages.”

“About 1,200 workers from Thurbo tea garden near Mirik are marching towards the mini state secretariat,” said Sachin Khati, district committee member of Darjeeling Zilla Cha Kaman Mazdoor Union.

In a bid to defuse the situation, the state government announced that the wage negotiation meeting would resume on Tuesday at 4 pm. Monday’s meeting was attended by the state labour secretary S Suresh Kumar and labour commissioner Jawaid Akhtar.

To prevent law and order problem prohibitory orders section 144 of CrPC have been clamped near the secretariat.

First Published: Aug 07, 2018 15:45 IST

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