GJM wants written assurance on minimum wage for tea garden worker from state

Demand of Rs 23 wage hike in hills
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) today said the state government would have to give a written assurance on a time frame to implement the minimum wage for tea garden workers if talks on the interim wage hike are to progress.
Tea garden in the Darjeeling Hill
Tea garden in the Darjeeling Hill
The Joint Forum, a conglomeration of 23 trade unions, including the one backed by the Morcha, had told the state government at a tripartite meeting on November 17 that they would not sit for further talks on the pay hike unless a time frame was set for the implementation of the minimum wage.

But Morcha president Bimal Gurung said at a public meeting in Darjeeling on December 7 that he would separately hold talks with tea planters in the hills to ink a pact for an interim wage hike, bringing the prospect of a division in the Joint Forum.

However, Suraj Subba, the general secretary of the Morcha-backed Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union, today said: “We are ready to agree to an interim wage revision, provided the state government gives us in writing specifying the time frame within which the minimum wage for tea garden workers will be finalised.”

What Subba said today is similar to what the Joint Forum had said earlier.

His statement has come on the eve of a meeting between trade unions and representatives of planters’ associations.

The labour department that has called tomorrow’s meeting in Siliguri hasn’t set an agenda for the talks.

The wage hike is due since April 1, 2014.

In the first week of November, labour minister Malay Ghatak had said names for a committee to be formed to fix the minimum wage had been finalised and they were to be approved by the chief minister’s office, but there has been no official word on a time frame to settle the minimum wage.

The Morcha union also said that the interim wage hike shouldn’t be less than Rs 23 per day, at least for the first year.

“We are being told that the planters are agreeing to an interim wage hike of Rs 40 for the hills and Rs 37 for the plains over a period of three years. The planters want to increase the wage by Rs 18 in the first year and Rs 11 each in the subsequent two years for the hills,” said Subba.

“However, we will not agree to the hike of Rs 18. We want a minimum increase of Rs 23 in the first year. This is because during the last wage hike (in 2011), the planters had agreed to increase the wages of the hill workers from Rs 67 to Rs 90 at one go.”

While the hill planters had agreed to a hike of Rs 23 from the first year, estates in the plains had increased the pay by Rs 18 for the first year, followed by Rs 5 each in the subsequent two years. Garden workers in the plains are currently getting Rs 95 per day.

“The planters are also talking about something called attendance money. We will, however, have to go through it once it is officially communicated to us,” said Subba.

Source: VIVEK CHHETRI for Telegraph

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