Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, Jul 27, 2005
Trade & Labour Unions
Agri-Biz & Commodities - Tea
Bengal tea workers' stir ends as unions settle for productivity-linked wages
Kolkata , July 26
THE fortnight-old tea strike in West Bengal ended on Tuesday after a historic productivity-linked tripartite wage agreement was signed between the trade unions, owners and the State Government on Monday night.
The agreement has set tea plucking standards, as per seasons and gardens. Based on it, workers will earn incentives for additional production but will also suffer wage cuts if they fail to meet the set targets.
The workers' wages have been increased with effect from April 1. From a daily wage of Rs 45.90, it would be increased by Rs 2.50 a day in 2005-06. In 2006-07, it will be increased again by Rs 2.50. Subsequently, in 2007-08, the wage will be increased by Rs 3.
The garden owners have further decided to pay a lump sum Rs 250 a worker as an initial arrears. All arrears will be subsequently paid during the rest of the current financial year.
Regarding productivity, it was decided that if a worker plucks more than the standardised norm, then he would be paid Re 1 more for every kg up to six kg. If plucking is more than six kg, he would earn an incentive of Rs 1.50 per kg on the total plucking.
Similarly, if the worker fails to meet the targets as set in the agreement, the wages would be deducted in the same rate as prescribed for the calculation of the incentive.
Earlier, industry sources said, there used to be similar plucking norms in some gardens but those were informal. This is the first time that such norms have been standardised and accepted both by the producers and the trade unions.
The West Bengal Government has ratified the agreement.
With the signing of the agreement, approximately 3.5 lakh workers have restarted activities in the 300-odd tea gardens that are spread over Darjeeling, Dooars and the Terai region in West Bengal.
The productivity norms are expected to increase the average plucking in the West Bengal tea gardens from 20-22 kg per worker per day to around 25 kg. A senior Indian Tea Association official, however, preferred not to set any such benchmark as he felt that the agreement had just been signed and both sides had reposed full faith in it.
"It is too early to calculate the deduction in the total wage bill as it might be offset by an increase in production. It would also result in higher profitability of the tea industry," he said. As expected, captains of the tea industry hailed the agreement and termed it as a "move in the right direction". Trade union leaders, however, called it a setback to workers rights as it was directly linked to productivity.
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