DIBRUGARH, June 25 - The proposal of the State Government to fix the rate of minimum wages for the workers engaged in the small tea gardens on the basis of Akroyd Formula and Supreme Court judgement without fixing the minimum support price for green tea leaves, has come as a jolt to thousands of small tea growers.
The small tea growers are of the opinion that the concerned department of the State Government has not undertaken any concrete study on tea from plantation to marketing.
�We are not averse to paying higher wages to the workers, even Rs 350 as it was proposed initially. But for that to happen, the Government must first fix the minimum support price for green tea leaves as per the Dr MS Swaminathan Committee�s recommendation, which is at least 50 per cent more than the average cost of production.�
�The cost of production of one kg tea has gone up to Rs 24, which means that a grower must get Rs 36 as minimum support price (24+50%). The Government must ensure that the policies are sustainable to both the growers and the workers. If the sustainability element is ignored, thousands of growers along with lakhs of workers and their dependents will suffer. It appears to us that the concerned department of the State Government has not done a comprehensive study on the matter,� said Rohit Borgohain, former general secretary of All Assam Small Tea Growers� Association.
What if the Government sought to impose the proposed minimum wage of Rs 244, Borgohain said that the growers� body has time to respond to the proposal.
�We will discuss the matter with the concerned department and try to solve it. The Government has to work out a sustainable policy because it just cannot kill the livelihood of the State�s 14,4,222 growers, 3.10 lakh workers and their 10 lakh dependents. We understand that today a worker cannot run a family with a daily wage of Rs 100, 120 or Rs 137. We also want that workers get higher wages for better living. But the Government must also apply the recommendation of the Dr MS Swaminathan Committee for sustainability,� said Borgohain.
The leaders of the small tea growers� body face a great challenge in resolving the matter as they are in a fractured state now due to a recent election dispute, which eventually reached the court and judgement is awaited.
Overriding the opinions of the small tea growers� body, the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) which has been at the forefront in demanding that the minimum wages be fixed for workers in the unorganised sector too, has welcomed the proposal.
ACMS president and former Union Minister Paban Singh Ghatowar said that the wage hike would come as a great relief to several lakh workers engaged in the small tea gardens as they have been struggling to meet their day-to-day needs with meagre wages due to soaring prices of commodities.
It may be pertinent to mention here that the Government has so far failed to finalise the minimum wage for workers in the organised sector with the planters� body.