The in-kind wages paid by the tea industry in Assam to its workers is legal as per the country�s Minimum Wages Act. Even the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions have also endorsed such in-kind wages, claimed the Indian Tea Association (ITA), the largest of the country�s tea producers� associations.
The ITA was refuting the charges levelled against the Assam tea industry recently by the Oxfam India in a study report. The Oxfam in its report has, among other things, alleged that the tea workers in Assam region are denied right to a living wage and decent living conditions.
The ITA said in a letter to Amitabh Behar, Chief Executive Officer of Oxfam India, that the Oxfam study has failed to reflect the true picture of the tea industry. Its findings are based on some tea gardens and generalisations based on such facts harms the reputation of the tea industry and its workers, besides tarnishing the image of Indian tea which has a place of pride in the world.
The workers of the tea industry could avail all the health schemes of their repsective management as well as the Government. The ITA member tea estates have a robust medical system to take care of every medical need of a worker and his family. Moreover, they use to receive wages, rations for themselves and families, free housing and medical facilities for the family as well and they are not made to work for more than eight hours a day.
Besides, there is gender equality and the Indian tea industry provides direct employment to over 1.2 million workers and supports a large number of small growers who account for nearly 50 per cent of the production, said the ITA in its letter.
It also maintained that Provident Fund (PF) facility is paid to all temporary workers as per the Assam Tea Plantation PF Act and hence there is no discrimination. As regards the benefits under the Plantation Labour Act (PLA), similar cash wages, rations, protective clothings, bonus payments, sick leave etc., are provided also to the temporary workers on duty, if they are eligible for these benefits.
The tea industry is under an agreement with unions to maintain permanent strength of workers taking 1969 as the base year. The tea industry cannot thus substitute permanent workers by engaging temporaries, said the ITA.
Reminding that the viability of the tea industry is critical for protecting the employment base of this large population of over 1.2 million workers and their dependants, the ITA has said that all stakeholders in the value chain have a role to play for the long-term sustainability of the tea plantation sector. �Towards this end, sustainable sourcing from producers by buyers covering the cost of production needs to be institutionalised,� it asserted.
The ITA member tea estates have initiated programmes through its partnership with the UNICEF, on improving the quality of life of their workers and their families, it said.