19.75% bonus: For Darjeeling tea workers

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Kolkata: A 10-hour-long meeting on Darjeeling tea industry held in Siliguri on Thursday ended at 12.30am on Friday with an agreement being reached on paying “19.75% bonus in instalments”, according to the official of a top producers’ body.

There are 87 tea gardens in the Darjeeling Hills. The gardens have remained shut for the 100 days owing to the indefinite bandh call by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in support of the Gorkhaland demand. On September 18, rebel GJM leaders Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa had met Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee apprising her of the woes of the tea garden workers owing to the more than three-month long closure.

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Arijit Raha, secretary general of Indian Tea Association (ITA), the largest tea producers’ body in India, who was present at the meeting, told : “Yes. An agreement with the workers’ body has been signed. It’s 19.75% bonus, 50% of which will be given within seven days of normalcy (resumption of work).

The balance amount will be decided at a meeting on October 14. Despite the low cash reserve owing to the huge crop losses this year, the garden owners will pay bonuses as per the fixed formula.”

During Thursday’s meeting, a section of the producers’ bodies did not fully agree to the “bonus formula”, citing the ongoing cash crunch amid the strike. Incidentally, the producers’ body of Dooars and Terai have already fixed 19.75% bonus for their workers for 2016-17. Last year, Hills tea workers had received a bonus of 20% of their daily wage.

On why garden owners will pay bonus in instalments this year, a producer told TOI on condition of anonymity that there was little cash in hand while banks were not open and bonus books were not ready. “Who will give us guarantee that workers will rejoin work after getting bonus? I don’t believe that only a bonus announcement will work as a carrot.”

CM Mamata Banerjee had on September 18 urged all stakeholders — owners, workers and political outfits — to take part in the Siliguri meeting and take a “final decision” on the bonus and the strike.
Last year the Darjeeling gardens had received 19% bonus.