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Darjeeling tea workers likely to get 19.75% bonus

By Amitava

Darjeeling, September 21: The Darjeeling tea industry bonus meeting at Uttarkanya in Siliguri on Thursday was groundbreaking with all the sides principally agreeing to 19.75% bonus.

Tea gardens

However, till the filing of this report, the number of installments that the bonus would be disbursed in was not agreed upon.

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.

Following the meeting with the GJM leaders, the Chief Minister had directed that a tripartite talks be held on September 21 between the tea garden unions, tea management and the State Labour Commissioner to ensure that bonus be paid in Hill tea gardens and normalcy be restored. A few gardens in the Kurseong belt have opened up recently.

There are around 85,000 workers, both permanent and temporary, employed in the 87 tea gardens in Darjeeling.

Thursday's meeting at Uttarkanya, the mini State Secretariat near Siliguri, was attended by the State Labour Commissioner, representatives of the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA,) representing the Management along with representatives of operational tea garden unions affiliated to the TMC; CPIM; both the Binay Tamang and Bimal Gurung factions of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha; Gorkha National Liberation Front; Jan Andolan Party and the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxist.

In the meeting that commenced at around 2:30 pm saw negotiations continuing well into the night with all the sides initially having agreed to 19.75 % bonus.

The Darjeeling Tea Association then remarked that as soon as the gardens would become operational bonus would be disbursed immediately.

This led to a verbal battle with the tea unions demanding that the DTA clarify what they meant by "immediate."

DTA insisted that bonus be disbursed in 4 installments with the first installment to be disbursed immediately after the gardens become operational. This however sparked a fresh round of arguments.

The tea unions seemed a divided house. The Darjeeling Himalayan Plantation Union affiliated to the GNLF demanded that 20% bonus be paid in a single installment.

The representatives of the trade union affiliated to the GJM demanded 20% bonus but added that it could be disbursed in to two installments one before Dusserah and the other before Diwali.

The CPIM affiliated trade union also demanded that bonus be paid in a single installment. With differences in opinion the DTA representatives left the Hall allowing the Unions to sit among themselves and arrive at a consensus regarding the number of installments.

Following this the meeting resumed and was still continuing at the time of filing of this report.

There are 87 tea gardens in the Darjeeling Hills. Last year the Darjeeling gardens had received 19% bonus. "The meeting is still on. We are trying to arrive at a decision that will be acceptable to all the sides" stated Sandeep Mukherjee, Principal, DTA.

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