Lakhs of workers in nearly 300 tea gardens in Dooars and Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal observed a strike on Tuesday demanding the declaration of minimum wages of tea garden workers who still get paid a meagre wage of Rs 90 to Rs 95 per day.
The strike was called by a joint forum of 23 trade unions operating in the tea gardens which includes unions affiliated to all political and apolitical groups except the ruling All India Trinamool Congress ( AITC).
While the trade unions are insisting on the declaration of minimum wages, the Bengal government has only agreed to increase the wages by Rs 40 that too in a phased manner in three years — Rs 18, Rs 11 and Rs 11, respectively. Trade unions argue that the wage paid to tea workers is less than the wage given to agricultural labours under MNREGA which is Rs 167 per day in Bengal.
“We have been demanding that the government come out with a notification declaring minimum wages for workers in the tea industry. But so far nothing has come out of the tripartite negotiations, Debjit Dutta, spokesperson of United Tea Workers Front, one of trade unions in the joint forum told The Hindu .
Reports of deaths due to malnutrition and illness have rocked five to six closed tea gardens of north Bengal.
Commenting on the strike Abhijit Majumdar, joint convenor of the joint forum of trade unions told The Hindu that the strike was a huge success as workers in three districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and parts of two districts Coochbehar and Uttar Dinajpur chose not to work.
On Wednesday, the joint forum of trade unions has called for a 12-hour general strike in the area.
Suraj Subba, the general secretary of Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union, supported by the Gorkha Janmukti Morhca, admitted that there was no work in 103 tea gardens in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration as the workers supported the strike.