GUWAHATI, Oct 14 - Tea planters in the State have rejected a report by Oxfam which dissuaded UK supermarkets to source tea from Assam because of the poor working conditions of the workers, and warned the Kenya-headquartered non-profit organisation that unless it retracts the statement its activities in the State would be opposed by the garden �workforce�.
The Oxfam report citing a data set of 510 workers from 50 tea estates dissuaded UK supermarkets to source tea from Assam because of apparent health and work conditions deeming the tea inhumane.
�Considering that factually, the tea industry is one of the most labour centric, socially inclined, efficiently run and organised industries in the country, maybe the world, catering to the employment, education, healthcare, and accommodation for the masses, the report by Oxfam is in bad taste, demotivating estate owners and managers to go above and beyond for their workers in spite of the slump in the market,� the open rejoinder by a group of planters said.
They said there is no denying that all factors mentioned in the report could be made better and there are real issues that people on the ground face which include but are not limited to gender insensitivity, alcoholism, lack of proper skill-based education, and cultural taboos. But, as an industry, in the last 20 years, the owners and workers have survived being equitable to each other whether it was amenities, wages, bonuses, or lockdowns, thus ensuring the quality of the world�s best tea, they said.
�Instead of maligning the reputation of over a million people which might cause further unemployment, a better way would have been to identify issues on the ground and solutions to overcome them, which is how we work. The report carelessly �addressed� a few issues such as living conditions and the lack of healthcare facilities. Please note that the living conditions of housing complexes are what the people living in them make it. Workforces and their families are provided accommodation, access to healthcare, rations, job security, job prospects for future generations, over and above the wages and bonuses they earn. Bonuses constitute approximately 20 per cent of profits in addition to the salary,� they said.
Admitting that there has been an obvious lurch in the industry where tea sales have been at an all time low, the planters said the tea auction prices are determined on the whims of blenders, traders, brokers, and other middlemen, not on the owners or the workers.
�Suggesting in any way that people should stop sourcing tea from Assam is not only irresponsible, it is a demeaning to everyone who has put their sweat, blood, and tears into maintaining the quality and efficiency of a tax paying industry which supports not only the people working for them but all ancillary businesses built around it,� the planters said.
The planters said if one really wanted to ease the plight of the workers, they should encourage more people to invest in Assam tea, source more � directly from the gardens to ensure that there is enough money to pay suggested daily wages for them to go over and above providing alternate income sources, education, and a better lifestyle for the workforces and their families.
They said that unless the report by Oxfam is retracted, �if they ever come back for any purpose, research, development, or otherwise, they might face a lot of opposition, not by the management, but by the workforce itself.�