Centre plans to amend Plantation Labour Act

The proposed amendment seeks to exclude in-kind benefits from the definition of wage.

The proposed amendment seeks to exclude in-kind benefits from the definition of wage.  

The Centre is planning to amend the Plantation Labour Act (PLA), 1951 in a major way to exclude ‘in –kind’ components being regarded as wages.

It may be mentioned here that under the PLA 1951, plantation workers get various benefits either subsidised or free. These include rations, housing, education, firewood and medical facilities.

Accordingly, a large section of the mainstream tea industry bears the cost of providing these services. The industry does not pay statutory minimum wages, saying that the monetised value of the facilities provided compensates for this.

Daily pay-out

The tea industry , which is the largest among the plantation sectors (which includes coffee, rubber and spices), pays Rs. 137 in cash in Assam and Rs. 132 in West Bengal, with the industry maintaining that taken with the value of the ‘perks’, the daily-payout stands between Rs. 272 and Rs. 284.

In 2014, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had come down hard on the tea industry for not paying minimum wages.

The proposed amendment is now seeking to “exclude from the definition of wage the in-kind benefits that were being hitherto included,” an industry source told The Hindu.

The Central and State governments rolled out a clutch of social sector schemes which can be implemented in the tea estates. This, they felt, would obviate the need for the industry to extend these benefits. The Centre now wants the plantation industry to share this cost with the government under the amended PLA.

Responding to these proposed changes, Azam Monem, chairman of the Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations (CCPA), told The Hindu that it was good that the PLA had been brought to the discussion table.

The Indian industry had long been saying that PLA puts them at a cost-disadvantage vis-a-vis international rivals. A 2009 Report of a Committee on the Cost Competitiveness of India Tea Industry, too had pointed out that the PLA had added to production costs and lowered competitiveness. Bijoy Gopal Chakraborty, Chairman of the Confederation of Small Tea Growers ( part of whom are under PLA) said that any additional burden would kill the small growers-cum-owner segment.

“ We are happy that the Centre is now discussing the PLA, but we will send in our comments by January 20 to propose that the changes are looked at from the employers’ view point too.”

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 10:08:09 PM |

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