GUWAHATI, July 8 - With the assurance of support from the State government, the beleaguered Assam tea industry is all set to pay the enhanced interim wage of Rs 30 per worker per day, said Indian Tea Association (ITA) chairman Azam Monem. He was addressing newsmen here last evening.
He said the tea industry in the country is passing through a critical phase at this moment and the tea industry in Assam is no exception. It seriously needs government support to implement the official decision to pay each of its workers an additional wage of Rs 30 per day. Assam contributes over 50 per cent to the total amount of 1,320 million kilograms of tea produced in the country annually, he said.
However, after meeting the Chief Minister and the State Finance Minister, the ITA is of the belief that the Assam government is keen to complying with the tea industry�s request for support in this respect. The government has assured the industry subsidy for the ration it supplies to its workers, support to healthcare facilities, etc., against the payment of enhanced interim wage, he said.
Elaborating, he said the government has assured free medicine to the tea estate hospitals, extension of the Atal Amrit Abhiyan to the tea estates, and books and uniforms to the school-going tea garden children.
The State government recently enhanced the daily wage of tea workers by an interim amount of Rs 30 per day per head with a stipulation that it should be paid with retrospective effect from March 1, 2018. The tea workers of the State will continue to get this interim hike till the finalisation of their revised minimum wages, said the government.
Monem said excess crop, rise in the production costs and the stagnant tea prices for almost half a decade are deterring the competitiveness of the tea industry. At this juncture, the tea industry in Assam is not in a position to bear the burden of enhanced interim daily wage of Rs 30 per worker per day, which is estimated to raise the total annual production cost of tea to Rs 1,320 crore. In the overall production cost of tea, wages constitute 70 per cent.
At present, country�s tea industry is annually producing around 80 to 90 million kilograms of tea in excess and this quantity of tea is retained in the country. The pace of growth in domestic consumption is not significant to absorb this amount of surplus tea. Again, the average prices of tea have remained almost the same for the past five years since 2014. On the other hand, the production cost of tea rose at the rate of 10 per cent during the past ten years.
Many of the tea estates are now sustaining losses and are being compelled to compromise the developmental activities like replanting or rejuvenation of the old bushes, factory modernisation, investments on worker welfare, etc.
In such a situation, the organised sector of the tea industry in Assam is made to shoulder the burden of the recently enhanced interim wage. An ITA delegation, which comprised its vice chairman Vivek Goenka, its past chairman CK Dhanuka, its secretary general Arijit Raha and its Assam branch secretary Abhijeet Sarma, besides Monem, met the Chief Minister and the State Finance Minister yesterday separately, seeking support to enable the tea industry in paying the interim enhanced wage.
�We told the Chief Minister and the Finance Minister that everything in this matter depends on the support from the government. The government told us to accept the notified enhanced interim wage and assured us some subsidiary support,� Monem said.
The ITA delegation also requested the government to initiate a move for provincialisation of the tea estate schools, he said. The tea industry will now have to prevail upon its members, talk to the labour unions and the State labour department to initiate the process of paying the enhance interim wage, the ITA chairman said.