More than a million workers are employed in over 800 tea plantations in Assam which produces more than half of all tea grown in India. There is no fixed minimum wage, and the daily wage is fixed through agreements between workers’ unions and the industry. But the planters’ association which represents the management of the tea estates is able to push the wages down to well below minimum wages. The state government has done nothing to implement the payment of Minimum Wages. In Assam, as last notified w.e.f 1st January 2016, the minimum wages are Rs. 250, Rs.290 and Rs.350 for unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled workers.
The Joint Action Committee for Tea Workers’ Wages (JACTWW) which represents eight organisations in the state have called for protest actions across tea estates in support of the demand for minimum wage. The Committee has demanded that the issue be discussed in the next session of the parliament, which starts on 11th December.
The Committee pointed out that Prime Minster Modi, while campaigning in 2014, had promised a uniform minimum wage for tea workers if he came to power. The BJP is now in power both at the Center and in the state, and the party has turned its back on them just like the Congress did earlier.
To add to this, the state government announced that foodgrains would no longer be provided to the workers at subsidised rates. Instead of raising minimum wages, the government has provided Rs 1 crore to all tea garden owners for construction of inner roads. This is clearly in the interest of the owners while the workers are still agitating for the fulfillment of their most urgent demand for payment of a minimum wage.
The minimum wage rates for the tea industry in Assam are fixed for a period of 3 years at a time and the last wage agreement expired in December 2017. The workers have been demanding an increase since then. On 3rd July 2018, the Governor of the state passed an order that the state government should notify an interim enhancement of wages by Rs.30/- per day with retrospective effect from March 2018. In actual fact, the daily wage of Rs.137 plus the Rs 30 interim increment is being paid to workers from April 2018. This is not even half of the minimum wages being demanded by the workers across all plantations. The Committee is demanding that when the BJP talks of ‘one country, one tax’, why not ‘one country, one wage’ for all plantation workers?