Tea estate owners today said workers were resorting to demonstrations in many gardens over bonus although an agreement had been reached between planters’ associations and trade unions on the rate and the mode of payment.
Prabir Bhattacharjee, the secretary general of the Tea Association of India, said planters and trade unions had agreed in Calcutta on October 7 that bonus would be paid at 20 per cent in gardens in the Dooars and Terai.
“It was also agreed that the bonus would be disbursed among workers in two tranches. While 15 per cent bonus will be paid by October 15, the rest 5 per cent will be disbursed before Christmas this year. Besides, some financially weak gardens have been allowed to pay the bonus at lower rates, ranging from 13.5 per cent to 19 per cent. However, in many gardens, particularly those in the Dooars, there are reports that workers are demanding the bonus payment at one go or at a higher rate. We want the labourers to adhere to the agreement and co-operate with the management in paying the bonus,” said Bhattacharjee.
The planters said workers had held demonstrations in over 50 gardens in the Terai and Dooars last week to demand the payment of bonus at one go or at higher rates.
“While workers in some gardens agreed to accept the bonus in two instalments after demonstrations which continued for around an hour, estates like Dima (in Alipurduar district) were closed because of consistent protests. The Dima garden was reopened today after a meeting between the management and trade unions,” said a planter who didn’t want to be named.
Today, workers of Metelli and Murti tea estates, both located in Metelli block under Malbazar subdivision of Jalpaiguri district, held meetings for over three hours to demand the payment of 20 per cent bonus before Durga Puja. “It is disappointing that trade union leaders and workers do not understand our limitations. Our expenses have increased after revision in wages earlier this year. On the other hand, the tea price has come down. Still, we agreed to pay bonus at 20 per cent. If the protests continue, many gardens will close down,” said P.K. Basu, who owns a tea garden in the Dooars.
Trade union leader Chitta Dey said workers were resorting to protest in some gardens as respective management had paid the first installment of the bonus at lower rates, not at 15 per cent. “In a few cases, workers were demanding bonus at one go and demonstrated in gardens. We have spoken to them and have made it clear that they should adhere to the agreement,” he said.