State government had increased the daily wage of tea planation workers across gardens big and small to Rs.232
Small tea growers in Assam have resented the State government’s “unilateral” decision to increase the daily wage of plantation workers across gardens big and small to Rs.232.
Assam’s Labour Department had, through a notification issued a few days ago, enhanced the daily wage by Rs.27, with effect from August 1. The daily wage of a tea worker in the Brahmaputra Valley is now Rs.232, while that of southern Assam’s Barak Valley is Rs.210.
The State government also brought the small tea gardens at par with the major organised estates, making them pay the same daily cash wage. A part of a tea worker’s wage is paid in kind, including accommodation, electricity, and rations.
The All Assam Small Tea Growers’ Association said equating them with large gardens was an injustice on the part of the government. “The decision was taken without consulting us, and it is not possible for us to pay the new wages,” its president, Rajen Bora, told journalists.
“The government first needs to put in place a mechanism to ensure the small tea growers get a minimum support price for their tea leaves,” he said, pointing out that the minimum benchmark price implemented by the Tea Board has not been practical.
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Assam has about 1.22 lakh registered small tea growers who account for 52% of the total tea production in the State. Some 80,000 of these growers are members of the association.
The Tea Board of India defines a small tea grower as a person who cultivates tea in an area of up to 25 acres. But most growers own less than 2 acres of land.
The small tea growers’ body also pointed out that the government has not been extending subsidies or incentives to them despite bringing them under the Industry Department.
At a meeting with the associations of small tea growers a few days ago, Assam Industry Minister Bimal Borah said the government would spend Rs.180 crores collected in tea cess on the development of the small tea growers.
Assam workers’ wage one of highest in world: tea planters claim
Many of the small tea growers engage workers who retire from major plantations for Rs.140-180 a day.
Tea plantation workers are a major electoral force in at least 40 of Assam’s 126 Assembly constituencies, and their wage hike has often been a poll issue. The BJP government, keen on holding on to the 18% “tea tribe” voters, had promised to increase their daily cash wage to Rs.351 ahead of the 2021 State polls.
Tea planters claim the wages of plantation workers in Assam is one of the highest in the world, working out to more than Rs.450 daily when the non-cash component is taken into account. The “high” wages make their teas too expensive for the mass market fed by cheaper teas from countries such as Kenya and Sri Lanka.