Reported from Darjeeling: The Darjeeling Tea Association today said the planters will not be able to pay Puja bonus to Darjeeling Tea garden workers at last year’s rate of 20 per cent, an announcement that met with protests from the trade union of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
The planters said rampant absenteeism among tea labourers who are more keen on the 100 days’ work scheme, hike in workers’ wages and lower export orders because of recession had pushed up the cost of production, and hence, they cannot pay bonus at last year’s rate.
In 2010, the Darjeeling tea industry, which produces the world’s premier brew, paid bonus at the rate of 20 per cent for grades A, B and C gardens and at 17 percent for estates in the Grade D category. The 20 per cent bonus is the highest fixed under the Plantation Labour Act, 1951.
The bonus percentage is calculated on the basis of the total annual earnings of a worker.
H.R. Chaudhary, the president of the DTA, today said: “Our production has come down because of several reasons. The production cost has increased by 45 per cent because of inflation and hike in wages by about 33 per cent. As a result, we might not be able to pay the annual bonus at last year’s rate.”
According to DTA officials, the cost of producing a kilogram of Darjeeling tea hovers around Rs 350-370. “The maximum selling price of organic tea at times is only about Rs 400 per kg,” said an official of the DTA.
Sandeep Mukherjee, the principal adviser to the DTA, said: “Our production last year was 7.96 million kg of tea. At one time, the industry used to produce 13 million kg of made tea annually.” This time, the crop production has come down, though the figures are not available yet. Planters said they calculated the profits from the first and second flushes in the beginning of the season.
“One major problem is the absenteeism among garden workers which at times is as high as 25 per cent. Most of them prefer the 100 days work scheme instead of plucking tea leaves,” said Mukherjee.
The daily wage this year has been increased to Rs 90 from Rs 67. Although the hike is the highest in the history of the Darjeeling tea industry, the wage is still less than what the workers get under the 100 days job scheme. The daily wage under the central scheme is Rs 130.
“It is actually not true that we are paying less. Even though we give Rs 90 as daily wage, there are other benefits like provident fund and annual bonus. If we take these into account, our daily wages work out to around Rs 130,” said Chaudhary.
Mukherjee said the only way to stop the absenteeism was if the 100-days work scheme was undertaken between November and February, the lean season for the industry.
“We had approached the district administration but they said it had to be undertaken according to the requirement of the villagers and not during specific months,” said Mukherjee.
The DTA also said the recession in the West was bringing down export orders. “Considering all these factors, it is not possible to pay bonus at last year’s rate,” said Chaudhary.
The DTA has 12 Grade A, 15 Grade B, 16 Grade C and 17 Grade D gardens. The Indian Tea Association, another planters’ body in the hills, has six Grade A gardens, five Grade B and four Grade C estates as its members. Only one Grade D garden is a member of the ITA.
The planters’ announcement has been criticised by the Morcha-affiliated Darjeeling-Terai-Dooars Plantation Labour Union. “What are they (planters) talking about? This proposal will never be accepted. In fact, looking into the overall scenario we want the planters to give bonus at the rate of 20 per cent even to Grade D gardens this year,” said P.T Sherpa, the president of the union.
The union said they had not pressed for other benefits — like construction of new labour houses and repair of existing ones, hospitals in gardens that do not have one and improved medical aid and other fringe benefits — to ensure that the bonus is high.
By Vivek Chettri, The Telegraph