The minimum per day wage of tea workers in Assam hiked by an interim amount of Rs 26
Tea garden workers constitute roughly 17 percent of Assam’s population. Credit: EastMojo Image

Guwahati: Assam government is likely to hike the daily wages of tea workers in the state by Rs 50, a state government official said on condition of anonymity.

The government is also likely to call it an interim hike in wages and not notify it as a minimum wage to avoid legal challenges, the official said.

“The new daily wage is likely to be around Rs 220,” the official said, adding that there have been discussions with stakeholders, including management of the tea gardens and the workers’ unions. “It is likely to be notified in the coming days,” the official said. The non-cash component of the wages is likely to remain unchanged.

Assam produces more than half of the country’s tea. The hike is likely to benefit around 7.5 lakh workers in over 800 tea gardens of Assam. It won’t affect the workers in the unorganised smaller tea gardens spread over the state.

The tea garden workers have been demanding that their wages be hiked to Rs 351 from Rs 167 that they are paid at the moment.

Tea tribes community constitute around 17 per cent of Assam’s population and have a considerable influence in at least 35 of the 126 Assembly seats.

With an eye on the upcoming Assembly polls, the BJP-led government has promised to revise the wages. On February 6, senior minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that new wages could be announced within ten days. While presenting the vote on account on February 12, Sarma reiterated that the new wages would be announced by February 20, after discussions with stakeholders.

Congress has also upped the ante with Rahul Gandhi promising in Sivasagar recently that if Congress comes back to power, it will increase the wages to Rs 365. The Congress is desperate to regain ground among the community it has ceded to the BJP since the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Meanwhile, the tea industry representatives and the workers’ unions stuck to their demands during the consultations.

“The broad view of the Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations (CCPA) is that the hike should be as per the recommendations of the one-man committee,” a member of the plantation associations who was part of the consultations said. The one-man committee, headed by former chief secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna, had recommended that cash component of the wages be hiked to Rs 195 according to the government official quoted above.

Meanwhile, the workers union have stuck to the demand of Rs 351 as a daily wage.

“We are demanding as per the proposal of the minimum wage advisory board of 2018,” said Rupesh Gowala, General Secretary of Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha and a Congress leader. Gowala said the board had fixed the minimum wages at Rs 351. “We have told the government to honour the commitment,” Gowala said. According to the reports, the amount included both cash and kind components.

Another leader of the ACMS who spoke on condition of anonymity said that he expects the wage hike would be under Rs 230 per day. “Our expectations are more but the new wage is likely to be less than Rs 230 per day,” said this leaders. “Many tea gardens would shut operations if it’s more. They may not be able to handle it,” this leader said clarifying that “demand of Rs 351 as a daily wage is justified as per the government’s norms.”

Meanwhile, asked if the ACMS would protest if their demands are not heeded, Gowala said “if our expectations are not honoured, the government will have to face protests.”

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