Research Report

Wage determination machinery of tea industry in India: a case of West Bengal State  

Debasish Biswas
Assistant Professor,Vidyasagar University, West Bengal, India
Author    Correspondence author
Journal of Tea Science Research, 2016, Vol. 6, No. 8   doi: 10.5376/jtsr.2016.06.0008
Received: 12 Jul., 2016    Accepted: 13 Jul., 2016    Published: 24 Oct., 2016
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Preferred citation for this article:

Biswas D., 2016, Wage determination machinery of tea industry in India: a case of west Bengal state, Journal of Tea Science Research, 6(8): 1-4 (doi: 10.5376/jtsr.2016.06.0008)

Abstract

Daily rate of wages for tea plantation workers in west Bengal is abysmally low in comparison to agricultural minimum wages. There are a few benefits offered by the employers apart from the statutory benefits enshrined in the Plantation Labour Act, 1951. Consequently, many tea workers in this state are suffering from starvation, malnutrition, debt, etc. In this backdrop, in my present study, a deliberate attempt has been made in order to highlight the actual picture of wage and its determination process in the tea industry located in West Bengal in India. 

Keywords
Wages; Plantation Labour Act; Tea Industry; Wage Determination; West Bengal

Prelude

Tea is globally one of the most exoteric and economic beverages and major tea producing nations are India, China, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Vietnam. The tea industry is one of the oldest organized industries in India having a long historic evolution.

 

Tea is mainly cultivated in two districts of West Bengal, namely, Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling. The two districts contribute 20% of India’s tea with Jalpaiguri producing around 15%. The tea growing area of Jalpaiguri district is known as Dooars while Darjeeling has two areas known as Darjeeling Hills and Terai in the plains of the district. Labour in Dooars and Terai are mainly adivasis while Darjeeling Hills have Gorkha workers.

 

Statement of Problem

Prevailing daily wages in the tea plantations of West Bengal is Rs 105, whereas prescribed minimum wages for unskilled agricultural workers is Rs 221. Tea plucking involves at least some amount of skill and should be treated at least in the semi-skilled category. For the semi-skilled agricultural activities, prevailing prescribed minimum wage is Rs 250. In that respect, plantation workers in West Bengal get about one-third of prescribed minimum wages.

 

Literature Review

Several studies have been made of various aspects of tea industry. These are mainly on financial and geographical aspects of tea industry. Till date, a very little effort has been made to highlight this wage issue in the tea estates of West Bengal.

 

A brief review of those studies is mentioned here:

 

The thesis of Dr. Mita Bhadra on life and labour of plantation women workers in 1992 had provided focus on the labourer of tea plantations. It was a sociological study on women which dealt with the life of women workers in a tea plantation of Darjeeling district of West Bengal. It reflected changes in the status and role of women employed in tea industry.

 

The thesis of Dr. Kanchan Sarkar titled “Study of Trade Union Organization among the Tea Workers in Terai and Dooars Region” in 1998 has discussed the trade union movement in tea industry in different periods. But the study does not provide the reaction of employers with the development of trade union movement in tea industry.

 

Another study conducted by Khemraj Sharma “The Himalayan Tea Plantation Workers” in 2000.The main dimension of the study was that unlike any other areas of tea industry of the country, the basis of trade union formation was the common ethnic bonds of the leaders hailing from hilly region of Darjeeling.

 

A study conducted by Tessy Kurian “A Study of Women Workers in the Plantation Sector of Kerala” in 2004 with the objective to find out the different roles of women workers in tea plantation.

 

A study conducted by the International Labour Organization 2005, had tried to analyze the impact of globalization on the overall tea prices in India. According to this report, the large tea companies have been benefited to the largest extent from the fall in auction prices because they enjoy tremendous power to push down the prices and by doing so, they take the advantages of depressed market condition.

 

A study conducted by Lalit Premlal Tirkey on “Tea Plantation in the Darjeeling district of India: Geoecological and Socio-Economic impacts in post-Independence period” published in 2005 by Natural Resource Institute, University of Manitoba which was conducted with the objective to find out the evolution process of tea plantations in the Darjeeling area since India’s Independence. This study concentrated mainly on geoecological impact arising from development and evolution of tea plantations. It highlighted about the problems of deforestation caused by initial clearing of teas. It has also concluded very categorically that tea plantations are unable to provide sustainable livelihood to the communities related to plantations in the same way as they once did.

 

So, it can be stated that there had been a very little effort to study in depth the wage issue in the tea estates of West Bengal. The research works so far have been made by the different scholars of sociology and social anthropology had given much emphasis on the changing social relations of workers. But these studies have helped us to frame out objectives of the present study. It is expected that this study will be able to throw some lights on that area which remains either unexplored or under explored.

 

Objective

Therefore the main objective of this study is:

 

1. To critically analyze the wage rate in this state.

2. To highlight the wage determining machinery in the tea industry located in West Bengal.

 

Methodology

The study is mainly based on secondary data which was supplemented by data/information gathered through focus group discussion in the tea estates located in West Bengal. The most important source of secondary data is Tea Board of India. Records of Labour departments of the State are another important source of secondary data.

 

Discussion and Analysis

Prevailing daily wages in the tea plantations of West Bengal is Rs 105. This is far below than a need-based minimum wage. The 15th Indian Labour Conference held in 1957 had raised the issue of need based minimum wages for all industrial workers. Subsequently, the government appointed central wage boards for the fixation of need based minimum wages in 22 industries. These were tripartite bodies having representatives of employers’ associations, trade unions and government. All industries had agreed that the wage would be determined on the basis of the requirements of three consumption units. But the employers’ association vehemently opposed to three consumption units. They argued that since there was equal employment of male and female workers it implied that there were two earners in the family, hence the units should be 1.5 and not three and they remained adamant to this particular issue.

 

Meanwhile the union government had announced that if there was unanimity in decisions in any wage board the recommendations would be implemented immediately. If there was no unanimity in a wage board, the government would not implement any of the awards. This put most workers in a vulnerable position because if they opposed unjustified suggestions of the employers they would not get anything. Hence in most cases the wage boards tried to reach unanimity in their decisions. This invariably put the management in a strong bargaining position. This is exactly what happened in the wage board for the tea plantation industry. Since the employers refused to budge from their demand of including 1.5 units it was reluctantly accepted and the need-based minimum wage in the tea plantations was half of that of the other industries. Low wages were built into the system and the workers were helpless in this regard.

 

Wages in tea plantations in India and particularly in West Bengal

Table 1 presents the existing wages in five major tea producing States of India.

 

 

Table 1 Daily rate of wages in major tea producing States 2014

Note: Source: ITA and UPASI

 

From Table 1, it is clearly evident that daily wages in Assam and West Bengal is significantly lower, not even 50% of the wages that prevail in the tea plantations of Southern States in India. In three Southern States, wages are declared through minimum wage notifications and wage settlements fall outside the purview of collective bargaining. In Assam and West Bengal, on the other hand, wages are determined through collective bargaining. But plantation does figure in the minimum wage schedule as evident in the synopsis of minimum wages 2014, Govt. of West Bengal given in Annexure 1. Corresponding to tea plantation row it is written that wages are determined through agreement. Daily wages of plantation in West Bengal was Rs 95 in December 2014 whereas the minimum wage for even unskilled agricultural work was Rs 216 as given in the synopsis.

 

Wage Determining Machinery

In Assam and West Bengal, wage is determined through collective bargaining mechanism in a tripartite forum. Representatives of planters, representatives of workers’ union and government representatives sit together through a series of negotiations to determine daily wage in an industry wise manner for a specified period. But it is pitiful that such labour market institution leads to abysmally low wages. In this context it becomes important to understand why wages and conditions of work are poor for the plantation workers in the Tea sector of West Bengal and Assam. Employers but argue that plantations workers get many benefits apart from monetary wages as the planters are expected to adhere to the Plantation labour Act 1951. These are statutory in nature and outcome of legislation enacted in view of special working conditions in plantations.

 

Moreover, even if one adds the monetary equivalent of such welfare provisions, wages as received by plantations workers stand significantly below that of wages in similar employment category.

 

West Bengal tea agreements

In West Bengal tea plantations, Planters’ Association is represented by CCPA (Constituent Committee of Planters’ Association) and workers’ are represented by CCTWU (Coordination Committee of Tea Workers Union). Wage agreement signed in the month of February 2014, wages were enhanced by Rs 17.50 in the first year, Rs 10 in the next two years and the agreement came into force with effect from 1st April 2014. Accordingly, wage would increase to Rs 112.50 in the first year, 122.50 in the second year and 132.50 in the third year.

 

As per the tripartite Memorandum of Settlement dated 20 February 2015 between the tea managements and representatives of trade unions, the nominal wage at the end of each period along with incremental wage hike is showed below (Table 2).

 

 

Table 2 Memorandum of Settlement dated 20 February 2015

 

Conclusion

Daily rate of wages for tea plantation workers in West Bengal is extremely minimum in comparison to other tea producing states in India except Assam. In west Bengal, wage is determined through collective bargaining. There are few non–statutory benefits apart from the statutory benefits, still it is very hard to justify such low wages in west Bengal. One should keep in mind, minimum wage is essentially the basic subsistence wage below it ought not to fall. Thus prevailing tea plantation wage in this state is abysmally low.

 

References

Bhowmik S.K., 2011, Wages and ethnic conflicts in Bengal’s tea industry, Economic & Political Weekly, XLVI (32)

 

Thapa N., 2012, Employment status and human development of tea plantation workers in west Bengal, discussion paper No.11, NRPPD, CDS, Thiruvananthapuram

 

Sarkar K., 2015, Wages, mobility & labour market institution in tea plantation: The case of west Bengal & Assam, discussion paper No.46, NRPPD, CDS, Thiruvananthapuram

 

Tea Board of India, http://www.Teaboard.gov.in (accessed date: Jan, 12th 2016).

 

Indian labor journal, http://labourbureau.nic.in/ILJ_JAN_2014.pdf (accessed date: Feb, 6th 2016)

 

Indian Tea Association, http://www.indiatea.org/services.php (accessed date: Feb, 23th 2016)

 

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