The West Bengal government on Tuesday notified a 15% wage hike for tea garden workers, which the tea industry said required to be negotiated with the government.
West Bengal has tea gardens in Darjeeling, Coochbehar and Jalpaiguri with 0.25 million odd workers,90% of who are daily rated workers. The remaining 10% are monthly rated employees comprising, sub staff, employees and clerical grade but the 15% hike has been announced for all.
The last wage hike of 15% was implemented in January 2021, when the hike was translated to `26 per day for daily rated workers. At present at a wage level of Rs 176 per day, the hike would translate to around Rs 23-24 a day, to which the industry has reservations.
Azam Monem, a director in Mcloed Russels told Fe even if the government has notified a wage hike, the tea industry will have to have a dialogue with them. This wage hike is not sustainable, he opined.
PK Bhattacharya, president, Tea Association of ( TAI) said wages account for 60% of the production cost and production cost would go up by an estimated `20 per kg for a garden which meets all statutory obligation. The cost of production would touch almost to Rs 220- 230 per kg.
Many a garden owners both big and small though didn’t want to be named said, West Bengal chief minister, Mamata Banerjee’s decision was arbitrary and she announced the 15% wage hike in her visit to North Bengal on June 7 without consulting any stake holders. On Tuesday the government has notified the wage hike without consulting the stake holders once again.
“The average tea price reported in last two Siliguri tea auctions is Rs 191.63 a kg and Rs 202.73 a kg with unsold tea or out of lot after sale at 31%,” , Bhattacharya said. The price increase in inputs such as coal and fertilizer has risen from Rs 9000 per tonne to Rs 20,000 per tonne and it was imaginable how sharply would wage hike impact on the cost of production, he added.
West Bengal labour minister, Becharam Manna, said, the issue of wage revision was planned well in advance and it was in knowledge of all stake holders. So there was no reason to raise objection to it. Raising the living standards of North Bengal tea garden workers was of prime importance to the state government, he said.