Oxfam report flags Assam tea for labour rights violation

‘Consumers, supermarkets and brands should support State’s move to provide living wages to workers’

October 10, 2019 11:06 pm | Updated 11:11 pm IST - GUWAHATI

Representational image.

Representational image.

A report by Oxfam, a confederation of independent charitable organisations focussing on the alleviation of global poverty, has flagged violation of labour rights in the tea estates of Assam.

Tea industry captains, however, said there was nothing new in Oxfam India’s report finding tea plantation workers with “no toilets, crumbling houses, poor wages, lack of quality health and education entitlements”.

Along with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Oxfam India had conducted the research that yielded the report ‘Addressing the Human Cost of Assam Tea’ through interviews with 510 workers in 50 tea estates of the State.

The report noted that the Assam government’s commitment to increasing the minimum wages of tea plantation workers to ₹351 met with hurdles of financial viability in the sector.

‘Struggling tea industry’

It hoped that the proposed Occupational Health and Safety Bill would help the “struggling Assam tea industry” be viable and at the same time “ensure fair living wages and decent working and living conditions for tea plantation workers and their families”.

 

The report attributed the condition of plantation workers to the “relentless squeeze by supermarkets and brands on the share of the end-consumer price for tea”. The researchers found that despite working for over 13 hours a day, workers earn between ₹137-167 while tea brands and supermarkets “typically capture over two-thirds of the price paid by consumers for Assam tea in India — with just 7% remaining for workers on tea estates”.

Oxfam asked consumers, supermarkets and brands to support the Assam government’s move to provide living wages to workers and to ensuring more of the price paid by the consumers trickle down to them.

“We welcome the attempts of the government to increase the wages of tea plantation workers and the upcoming Occupational Health and Safety bill. Both have the potential to address the systemic injustice faced by the tea workers in Assam. However, our research points to the fact that tea plantation workers and their families are living a very vulnerable existence. The wages they earn are very low, and their working and living conditions call for an urgent response,” said Amitabh Behar, CEO, Oxfam India.

A spokesperson of the Indian Tea Association declined to react, beyond saying that “such reports keep coming out to batter an already-battered” industry.

“Our job is to produce tea, and the challenge right now is to sustain the industry,” he said.

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