While financially hit workers will press harder for higher bonus, accepting that will be too tough for the planters, equal victims of the pandemic situation.
Festival bonus is a big issue for over 12 lakh tea workers in around 1,575 organized tea gardens and 2lakh small growers in India. With a total plantation area of nearly 6.4 lakh hectares, they produce over 13 million kg processed tea in a year.
Being situated in Assam, Tripura or Bengal, 80% of these plantations pay a festive bonus during September. It comes as a big responsibility of around Rs 650 crore to the planters in the northern India tea belt.
“The workers bonus is usually negotiated between trade unions and conglomerates of employers. Last year, after long negotiation it was finalized at around 20% of their annual earning subjected to many conditions,” said P. K. Bhattacharjee, Secretary General, Tea Association of India.
“After all the considerations, net bonus earning of a worker grossly varies from around Rs. 6,000 to Rs. 10,000, which is too big for a poor worker,” said Saman Pathak, General Secretary, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Darjeeling District.
“We accept the adversity due to the pandemic. But contrary to our apprehension, price of tea in the auction or open market did not go down. So, we want a respectable bonus for all workers,” said Pathak.
“We have already suffered production loss for over 200 million kg that is near 15% of annual yield. In this choked up situation due to pandemic it is not possible to go extra active to compensate the loss. Moreover, unprecedented flood and excessive rainfall have come as an additional crisis in this peak production season. Naturally, bonus will be a tough load,” said Bhattacharjee.
Clear enough, bonus negotiation this year is not going to be an easy task for the planters and workers. The State or Central Govt need to play an active role in it- agreed both the sides.