New Delhi. - The Indian human rights organisation Nazdeek expressed its outrage at the agreement between Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) and Consultative Committee for the Plantations’ Association (CCPA), which was settled on Wednesday. It leads to increasing the wage of tea garden workers in Assam, from 94 Rs/day to a "grossly inadequate" 115 Rs/day. The agreement further confirms that the wage will not rise above 137 Rs/day before January 1st 2018, which is far behind the legal minimum wage. Nazdeek works on labour rights for the tea garden workers in the north-eastern state of Assam.
"This pitiful and unjust" wage increment comes despite the recent declaration by Assam’s Chief Minister that tea garden workers should be paid the legal minimum wage of 169 Rs/day.
"Tea garden workers have their rights enshrined in national law by the Plantation Labour Act, 1951, and Minimum Wages Act, 1948. These rights cannot be negotiated away to increase the profit margins of plantation owners, which include corporations such as Tata-Tetley, Unilever, Twinings and PG Tips. Indeed, according to Nazdeek, this wage scandal implicates every brand of Assam tea, including those certified by Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance", declared Nazdeek.
The organisation demands that the State Government urgently issues a binding notification, stating that the minimum wage of 169 Rs/day applies to tea garden workers. The Government should also clarify that, in line with the Plantation Act, statutory benefits, including housing, health care, and provident fund, must not be counted in the wage calculation.
Nazdeek stands in solidarity with the All Adivasi Students’ Association of Assam (AASAA), who have declared the agreement to be "tantamount to forced slavery in the tea gardens". "We stand united with AASAA’s Hazra Andolan (Wage Campaign) that has mobilized thousands of workers across the State, calling for a just wage of 330 Rs/day, and will continue to do so until workers’ rights are fulfilled."
The State of Assam is the world’s largest tea-growing region, accounting for half of India’s tea production and one sixth of the world’s production. While most of the tea sourced from Assam is used for domestic consumption, Assam’s leaves are a crucial component in a number of blends, such as the English Breakfast Tea.
Despite the industry’s expected turnover of nearly 33 Million Rs by 2015, Assam’s tea garden workers are the lowest paid in India’s organized sector. With an income of Rs 115/day, workers earn far below the statutory minimum wage of Rs.162 per day, in violation of the Minimum Wages Act, the Plantation Labour Act and the Indian Constitution.