The recent strike demanding finalisation of minimum wages in West Bengal caused an estimated loss of Rs. 40 crore to the tea industry, according to industry officials. The strike was called by the Joint Forum of Trade Unions (JFT).
However, the industry heaved a sigh of relief as the strike was partial in most of the State’s tea-growing areas. Known as the second flush season, the period between June and early August yields some of the best teas.
While about 50% of tea garden workers in Dooars region participated in the strike, only 20% took part from Terai region.
In West Bengal, which accounts for about 25% of the tea output in the country, tea cultivation is undertaken in the upper reaches of Dooars, Terai and Darjeeling. JFT convener Zia ul Alam said that the strike which began on August 7 was near total and spread to the Darjeeling hills as well.
The Consultative Committee of Plantations Association (CCPA), the apex planters body, had appealed to the trade unions to withdraw their agitation and allow normalcy to be restored in an industry which was facing financial stress on account of stagnant tea prices.
The Tea Association of India (TAI), a constituent of the CCPA, termed the agitation ‘irresponsible’ as it was called without any notice to the industry amid ongoing talks on the issue.
A tripartite meeting was held in Siliguri, in which labour department officials outlined the progress on the issue of minimum wages, the CCPA said in a statement.
Mr. Alam, however, said that there was lack of clarity on the Rs. 172 per day minimum wage offered by the government at the August 6 meeting.
According to planters, the tea industry in the Dooars and Terai regions has already suffered production losses during the peak season in 2018 due to frequent gate meetings in the first half of July. CCPA secretary general Arijit Raha said that productivity and price increase were crucial for sustaining any wage increase.
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