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No wage hike in Assam tea gardens for now, says Gauhati High Court

The Gauhati High Court's order effectively means the tea estates can continue to pay ₹167 as the daily wage to their workers.

The Gauhati High Court's order effectively means the tea estates can continue to pay ₹167 as the daily wage to their workers.

The Gauhati High Court has given tea estate owners in Assam the “liberty” to decide if they want to follow the State government’s order on increasing the daily wages of plantation workers by ₹50.

This effectively means the tea estates can continue to pay ₹167 as the daily wage to their workers.

Hearing a petition of the Indian Tea Association (ITA) and 17 tea companies for staying the wage hike, Justice Michael Zothankhuma on March 16 said the interim order passed more than a week ago “shall continue until further orders”.

The judge had on March 8 restrained the State government from taking any “coercive action” against the tea estates for not following its February 23 notification.

Tea plantation workers’ wage has been a major issue in poll-bound Assam where Adivasis – loosely referred to as “tea tribes” – are the deciding factor in 45 of the State’s 126 Assembly seats. While Congress has promised to hike the daily wage to ₹365, the BJP had in its 2016 vision document assured ₹351 per day.

In February, Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma announced in the Assembly that the daily wage would be increased from the current ₹167 to ₹217. The Labour Welfare Department accordingly issued a notification for increasing the wage by an “interim amount” of ₹50 per day.

“Further, after hearing the parties, this court is of the view that liberty should be given to the petitioners to pay to the workmen any interim enhancement of their wages as they deem proper, till the issue is finally decided by this court,” the March 16 order said.

The court fixed April 23 as the next date of hearing in the case. The three-phase Assam polls would be over by April 6.

The ITA and the tea companies had in their petition said the notification was “illegal in as much as, no Committee/Sub-Committees have been formed as required under Section 5(1/a) and Section 9 of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948.”

The two rival alliances headed by the BJP and the Congress have been trying to win over tea workers who constitute almost 20% of the State’s population spread across 803 major plantations and many of the 1.75 lakh small tea gardens.

Most tea plantation workers used to vote for the Congress until 2016 when they tilted towards the BJP. Other than increasing the daily wage from ₹137 to ₹167 in 2015, the BJP had showered the tea workers with cash awards and other beneficiary schemes.


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Printable version | May 23, 2022 11:52:58 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/no-wage-hike-in-assam-tea-gardens-for-now-says-gauhati-high-court/article34089567.ece