About 400 tea gardens workers from of Dooars and Terai regions of West Bengal joined a 10-day rally organised by the Progressive Tea Workers Union (PTWU) on January 5, earlier this year. The 390-km rally started in the village of Kumargram Sankosh and ended in the city of Siliguri of Jalpaiguri district.
The rally was held to highlight the various problems of tea-garden workers who have been left in the lurch due to closed tea plantations in the region.
At end of the rally, seven representatives from various tea-garden workers union visited Delhi to present a list of demands to Nirmala Sitharaman, the Union Minister of Commerce & Industry with demands such as that the government take requisite rehabilitation measures for workers, enforce minimum wage structure in the region, give recognition of ethnic tribes as Scheduled Tribes, among other demands.
The closure of several tea estates in the region has lead to the destitution of workers. The closure has reportedly claimed over 1,400 lives between 2000 and 2015 due to starvation, as the workers survive on meals of dried tea leaves. Even the state of employed tea garden workers is not very optimistic. The existing wage for tea garden workers is Rs. 95, which is way below the minimum wage of Rs. 255. There are several reports of misappropriation of funds. In one such ground report from Video Volunteers, the tea garden workers were not been paid provident funds or pension since eight years.
"One can see that our problems can't be solved with two kilogrammes of rice. Our main demand is that we want Below Poverty Line (BPL) status for the unemployed tea-garden workers so that they can benefit from the various government schemes," said Johan Barla, Chairman, PTWU.
Due to destitution, education of the workers' children is suffering too. "We also have leaseholds on our lands. How will we fulfil these needs?" Suresh Naik, a tea garden worker in the rally asks.
The PTWU demands the following benefits be extended to the tea garden workers of Dooars and Terai region.
- Tea garden workers are enlisted as BPL families
- Return of the wrongly acquired tribal lands to their rightful tribal owners
- Recognise the ethnic tribal groups as Schedule Tribe
- Minimum wage should be paid to the tea garden workers
- Fix a selling price for tea, so that owners and workers can both benefit
Call Malay Ghatak of the Labour Welfare Department in Alipurduar, West Bengal on +91 332320421 and lend your voices to the tea workers who work hard to provide your morning cup of tea. Demand fair treatment, inclusion and dignity for these people.
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