Despite the withdrawal of a shutdown in the Bengal hills, nearly 60 per cent the workers are yet to resume work at the Darjeeling tea gardens, industry officials said on Sunday.
"About 60 per cent of around one lakh workers of the Darjeeling tea industry have not joined work even after the withdrawal of the shutdown," Darjeeling Tea Association's Chairman Binod Mohan told IANS.
According to him, the prolonged shutdown might have forced the workforce to venture out of the hills and seek alternate jobs.
"Hopefully, they will come back soon and join work," he said adding that the annual tea production had been "affected severely" this year and the only thing required to be done is "clearing the jungle" that has grown during the strike.
"There was no work at Darjeeling tea gardens for over 100 days. A significant part of the workforce migrated to other places for alternative jobs. The situation in Darjeeling still remains fragile. It seems workers who got some earning sources outside are taking their time to return," said Centre of Indian Trade Unions' General Secretary (tea industry) Zia- Ul-Alam, also convener of Joint Forum of Trade Unions, an umbrella organisation of trade unions working in tea sector.
All stakeholders, including all political parties in the hills, Centre and state government and tea industry players must sit together to build confidence among workers, he said.
Mohan said the tea industry has started making bonus payments to the workers.
After a recent tripartite meeting between workers' unions, tea garden owners and the government, it was decided the bonus to workers would be paid at 19.75 per cent of the annual wage earnings for the financial year 2016-17.
Due to the shutdown, all plucking and manufacturing operations in the 87 gardens in Darjeeling was suspended and there was no second flush production, considered premium variety contributing to about 20 per cent of the annual industry production and accounting for approximately 40 per cent of the annual revenue, Mohan said.
The industry sought a Rs 230 crore-Rs 240 crore financial support from the government, he added.
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