Workers of tea gardens in north Bengal have written to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee raising a host of issues concerning them such as wages, ownership of land and financial assistance for closed tea gardens.
“We continue to get only ₹176 that has been determined in an ad hoc manner. Agricultural workers have a minimum wage of ₹257, as do workers in cinchona plantations,” the workers of closed, abandoned and sick gardens said in their letter addressed to the Chief Minister.
The letter sought the government to fix a legally binding minimum wage rate for tea plantation workers and added that though an ‘advisory committee’ for the same was set up in 2014, it has not come up with a figure. The workers raised the issue of harassment by managements when they tried to withdraw their provident fund savings, pension or gratuity and not getting payment of dues (interim relief) as ordered by the Supreme Court.
“The tea plantation workers are also not getting their dues of Financial Assistance to the Workers of Locked Out Industries (FAWLOI) Scheme. Gardens such as Birpara, Torsa and Raimatang have been closed for almost a year but have not received FAWLOI payments, which are supposed to be paid within 3 months of closure,” the letter said.
The letter, signed by representatives of Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity and union leaders of tea garden workers, added that tea plantation workers have no rights on the land they and their ancestors have been working on for over 200 years.
The issue of tea garden workers was raised on several occasions in the administrative meetings chaired by Ms. Banerjee in north Bengal during the day. The Chief Minister said that the State government has started a project called Cha Sundari for providing houses to homeless workers of tea gardens. “This is a ₹500 crore project. In phase I workers of seven tea gardens in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar will get 3,694 homes,” Ms. Banerjee said at the meeting.