Although the three-day strike in the tea estates in North Bengal's Dooars and Terai region ended on August 12 amid warnings by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee that a law may be brought to stop strikes and bandhs, blockades on evacuation of tea is continuing, sources in the unions and industry said.
The union affiliated to the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad withdrew from the strike on its eve on August 8, following talks with the government but the unions affiliated to the Defence Committee for Plantation Workers Rights and Co-ordination Committee continued with the strike which culminated in a general strike on Friday. State Labour Minister P. Bose has said that talks cannot be held against a backdrop of agitations.
The unrest follows demand for an increase in wages from Rs.67 to Rs.130 daily. The industry said that wages and festival bonus might be jeopardised if disruption continued as 25 million kg of production had already been lost.
The Consultative Committee of Plantation Association (CCPA) , an apex body, has resolved that if this state of affairs continues then it may consider work suspension. The CCPA has written to the state Industry and Labour ministers saying that problems are persisting in an industry which is the backbone of the North Bengal economy.
CCPA Vice-Chairman A. N. Singh pointed out that for the workers, while Rs.67 was the cash-component of the wage, there was a non-cash component comprising food ration, firewood, tea, housing and maternity benefits which works out to a total package of Rs.140.
Tapan Chowdhury, Chairman of the West Bengal Regional Committee of CCPA, said that the industry had offered an increase to Rs.150 over a three-year period (including all non-cash part) as this was what the industry could afford in a sustainable manner.