Wage settlement comes as a solace

`It may stop migration of tea plantation workers'

M. Gunasekaran

VALPARAI: The nearly five-year-long uncertainty comes to an end now. For more than 20,000 estate workers of Valparai in the Anamallais reeling under debts, the interim wage settlement came as a solace.

When the tea industry faced unprecedented crisis after the sudden fall in prices five years ago, the agony of estate workers began. For the first time, their daily wage went down to Rs. 72 from Rs. 76.85 in 2002.

As per the new agreement, they will now get a minimum wage of Rs. 77.

According to statistics available at Valparai Taluk office, more than 100 families have migrated from the hill station to Tirupur, Coimbatore, Palladam and Pollachi. They had transferred their family cards. While majority of them moved to Tirupur and Palladam seeking jobs, many shifted to their native villages in Perambalur and Pollachi areas.

"The number of permanent workers has come down to 14,500 from 25,000 in three years. Many opted for voluntary retirement. Thousands left Valparai as it lost its charm and they could not sustain with the low wages,'' says AITUC president and advocate M. Viswanathan.

"Though the crisis still persists, the interim wage agreement may stop migration to some extent," a planter said.

With 11,740 hectares of estates, tea is the lifeline of Valparai. With assured job for all in the family, the hill station was seen as the topper in the State in terms of per capita income.

When the crisis began, population of the town also came down. As per the 2001 census, it came down to 94,142 from 1.07 lakhs in 1991.

The planters say the crisis is alarming. "We are struggling with low prices. But we did not close down a single estate in the Anamallais like in Kerala or other areas.''

The mismatch between cost of production and price realisation continues.

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