Darjeeling tea gardens agree to pay bonus

Kolkata: The managements of Darjeeling tea gardens agreed to pay bonus for the year at a rate of 20 per cent, ending the four-month-long impasse during which workers had observed a 12-hour strike in the hills.

The decision was taken to pay the bonus to the tea garden workers in two installments at a tripartite meeting held by state labour minister Malay Ghatak in the city. About 55,000 permanent and 15,000 temporary workers of around 87 Darjeeling tea gardens will be benefited from the outcome of the meeting.

Darjeeling Tea Association principal advisor Sandeep Mukherjee said the garden managements agreed to pay 20 per cent bonus, after the minister requested them to consider it as a special case. However, the minister was apprised of the poor financial conditions of the estates to pay more than 18.5 per cent, he said. “60 per cent of the bonus amount will be paid in the next 10 days while the rest 40 per cent of it will be paid after another tripartite meeting to be held by November,” Mukherjee said.

The protracted strike in the hills in 2017 to press for a separate Gorkhaland state had disrupted the production in tea gardens and led to poor financial condition, he said. GJM leader Binay Tamang, who was on the hunger strike over the bonus issue, withdrew his fast soon after the demand of 20 per cent bonus was accepted. “In view of the unprecedented politicalisation of the issue and to contain deterioration of tea workers” discipline and law and order situation, the estate owners agreed to the workers demand. There should not be any disruption in production,” Mukherjee said. Initially, tea garden managements in the hills had offered just 12 per cent bonus and later revised it to 15 per cent.

Last Friday, a 12-hour strike was observed in the hills over the same issue that affected tourism and tea production. Meanwhile, the bonus in plains (Terai and Dooars region) had been given at a rate of 18.5 per cent. Sources said tea gardens’ owners in the hills did not want to take any risk for the first flush tea harvest, scheduled in March next year, which is crucial for their profitability.