13th International Tea Day - UTUC call

Worker Statement - 13th International Tea Day

Tea is a perennial health drink, the second most consumed liquid after water; and as among the 1.2 million Indian tea workers, we are proud to be producing tea for India and the World. The number of workers and families involved in tea production would be much higher, if those engaged as temporary and non-resident workers in tea estates and those engaged by small farmers are included. More than half of the workers are women. 

On the occasion of the 13th International Tea Day (13th ITD), we bring to the attention of the government and other public authorities the worsening condition of tea workers and seek your immediate intervention not only for a decent livelihood of tea workers but also for the survival of the industry. It is high time that the Indian tea industry get rid off the slave labour culture imposed on us by the British colonialists.

Rationalisation of wages in tea industry is long overdue. First, contrary to the established norm in fixing wages in India, tea worker wages are fixed based on the principle of 2.5 consumption unit per worker instead of 3 consumption unit per worker, effectively reducing the income of the workers and their dependents. The logic of tea employment is a family labour is unacceptable because in any other sector, if husband and wife are working in the same establishment, the principle of deciding wages are not tampered with. Moreover, husband and wife need not be working in the tea gardens, any more. Second, there is no uniformity of wages among the tea garden workers in different parts of the country. While in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, a tea worker gets minimum wages of Rs 312, Rs 287 and Rs 232 per day respectively, in Assam and Bengal, tea workers get only Rs 132.50 and Rs 115.40 per day, though the tea prices at auctions are always higher for Assam and West Bengal. Third, we reject the logic advocated by the tea planters that the reason for keeping wages of tea workers are because of the non-cash component of wages including ration, firewood and dry wood. We strongly urge that this colonial practice of adding non-cash components to wages must be done away with and the tea garden workers must be paid full wages in cash.

The low wages are keeping millions of tea dependent people in poverty and having serious impact on other human development index factors like increased child mortality rate, maternal mortality rate, anaemia and are prone to avoidable diseases. Therefore, we strongly urge government of India to fix minimum wages for tea plantation workers as per the norms and principles laid down in 15th ILC and Supreme Court directives. In particular, the plantations must calculate wages considering 3 consumption unit for a worker without gender discrimination. The wages must be in cash and have a component of Variable Dearness Allowance to compensate for inflation.

Tea worker families, though residing within the tea gardens for three to four generations, do not have the right over the homestead or the house. Worst cases are big reported where those who retire do not have a place to live in. Houses are dilapidated and haphazardly extended to accommodate generations of children and siblings. People without right to housing are virtually captive and dependent workforce. Millions of tea workers are dependent on the mercy of tea planters for safe drinking water, sanitation and health, which are part of right to life guaranteed in the constitution. Plantation Labour Act must be amended to ensure legal right to homestead land and housing within tea plantations to tea workers along with provisions of drinking water, sanitation and health under local panchayat.

Tea workers particularly in West Bengal are facing non-payment of provident fund and gratuity in hundreds of thousands of rupees to workers. Tea workers who are retiring are thrown into abject poverty and survival crisis non-payment of these statutory benefits. Government must take immediate steps to address this criminal negligence from the part of employers.

While about 36 per cent of tea produced in India is by small tea growers, wage labour engaged by the non-estate sector tea growers do not fall within the purview of the PLA and therefore, do not enjoy any of the benefits. We urge that the minimum wages for tea workers must be applicable to the entire sector including wage labour engaged by the non-estate sector tea growers.

In this context, we, the trade unions representing workers in the tea gardens demand:

1. Wages

  1. Minimum wages should be determined and fixed for tea plantations as per the norms and principles laid down in 15th ILC and Supreme Court directives. In particular, the plantations must calculate wages considering 3 consumption unit for a worker without gender discrimination. Wages must be in cash dispensing with the practice of including non-cash components in the calculation of quantum of wages. The wages must have a component of Variable Dearness Allowance to compensate for inflation. The minimum wages must cover all workers engaged in tea cultivation and production.

2. Housing Rights

  1. All workers should be allotted permanent homestead land in their existing places of living as per a government order and workers should have free access to their places of living. The housing of tea workers must have adequate provision for safe drinking water, sanitation and primary health services within the jurisdiction of the local panchayat.

3. Implementation of Labour laws

  1. Government must take immediate steps to implement the provisions various labour laws, in particular the payment of provident fund and gratuity dues. 

PS: The first ITD was observed on December 15, 2005, in Delhi, in the wake of reports of numerous instances of closure or abandonment of tea estates and consequent disruption in the life and livelihood of tea workers, in an unprecedented scale, especially in the tea gardens in Kerala and West Bengal. Workers’ representatives, small tea growers, industry representatives and academics from various tea producing countries came together and called for coordinated action to protect tea workers and tea industry the world over. Since then, International Tea Day is observed all over the world. 

A  Call from Mr. Ashok Ghosh, Convenor, International Tea Day, India Chapter.