Tea estates in Ilam bear the brunt of workers protestTea estates in Ilam are likely to face heavy financial losses as workers continue to protest for higher wages.
Tea estates in Ilam are likely to face heavy financial losses as workers continue to protest for higher wages.
According to the tea producers, tea leaves are drying up as the worker’s protest drags on through the plucking season.
During the main harvesting season, a tea estate on an average produces up to 600 kg of tea in a single plucking. This is done up to four times by April end. However, with the workers’ protest, the tea estates have not seen a single harvest.
Tea estate workers in the eastern region are up in arms as factory owners have not implemented the monthly minimum wage and social security scheme as guaranteed by the new labour and social security laws.
“Instead of plucking the leaves, we are forced to protest demanding wages fixed by the government,” said Saraswati Chaulagain who is an employee in the Ilam Tea Estate for the past 32 years. “We also do not want to see the crops drying out.”
According to Chalaugain, the government and estate operators must take steps to resolve the issue and resume operations as soon as possible.
The tea estate workers, who toil around the field every day, hope that wage related issues would be solved soon and they could return to work.
“Government’s inability to enact the rules that it has imposed has put us in financial trouble,” said Thakur Katuwal, a tea estate worker. “As the most families rely on tea pickers’ income, we are facing acute financial crisis.”
With the low wage, workers were forced to switch jobs.
Ilam Tea Estate which used to provide jobs to around 200 workers a few years ago, now has only 51 workers.
Sanghai Group, one of the tea producers, said that problem has emerged because the government has failed to hold discussions with tea estates prior to implementing new wage rules.
“It is difficult to pay wages beyond our earning capacity,” said Subash Sanghai, chairman of Sanghai Group. “The plucking season in the hilly region lasts for six months and a shut down during the season has adversely affected almost all tea producers,” said Sanghai, seeking government intervention to resolve the issue. The government has made it mandatory for employers to pay industrial workers a minimum wage of Rs385 daily and create a social security fund by this fiscal year, but tea factories have not implemented the rule. Tea factory owners are complaining that the tea industry should not be in the industrial category as it requires only seasonal workers.
Workers who are being paid Rs265 per day have demanded payment of increased wages from the date of implementation along with festival bonuses and other perks.