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Friday, September 09, 2011

Clamour for 20% bonus - Tea union wants payment three weeks before Pujas

From The Telegraph, by WASIM RAHMAN Jorhat, Aug. 12: Clamour over Puja bonus has begun. The Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS), the state’s oldest and largest tea labourers’ body headquartered in Dibrugarh, has set the ball rolling with a letter to major tea planters’ associations, urging the industry to initiate the bonus payment process, paying at the maximum rate of 20 per cent. Union minister of state (independent charge) for DoNER and Dibrugarh MP Paban Singh Ghatowar is the president of the Sangha. In the early part of this decade, the bonus issue had reached a boiling point, leading to police firing on agitating labourers in Tinsukia district in 2002. But with the fortunes of the tea industry looking up during the past few years, bonus payments had gone smoothly. In his letter to the industry a few days back, ACMS general secretary Dileshwar Tanti requested that the “quantum of bonus” be announced and paid at least three weeks ahead of Durga Puja. He asked the tea estates to submit copies of their balance sheets and computation statements for the previous fiscal (2010-2011) to the Sangha’s central office in Dibrugarh by August 30. Taking the “hopes and aspirations” of the workers into consideration, the letter also urged the industry to declare and pay the bonus to the workers at one go rather than in instalments. Sangha sources said most of the time, the gardens did not comply with the request to submit balance sheets, which allowed “outside forces” to take advantage of the situation to fuel unrest among the labourers. Payment of bonus to industrial employees is mandatory under Payment of Bonus Act, 1965, which says that employees earning up to Rs 10,000 per month have to be paid bonus at a minimum rate of 8.33 per cent and maximum of 20 per cent, on the basis of the employers’ earnings in the previous fiscal. Tanti, a former MLA, told The Telegraph that a meeting between representatives of major tea companies, tea was scheduled to be held at the Sangha’s central office in Dibrugarh in the first week of September to discuss the bonus issue. This was being done to ensure that the process of bonus payment passes off smoothly and peacefully. He said since business in the last fiscal was “not bad”, they wanted the industry to pay maximum bonus. “We want the gardens to pay the bonus three weeks before Puja so that workers could get enough time to do their shopping,” Tanti added. According to industry sources, the matter should be sorted out amicably, as the industry is on a revival mode with tea prices going up. In the past two years, most of the estates and big companies, including MNCs, in Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts, paid bonus at the rate of 20 per cent, while a majority of the state’s gardens paid 17 per cent. Assam Tea Planters’ Association additional secretary Anjan Kumar Bhuyan said the Sangha’s request had been intimated to the member gardens. Dhiraj Gowala, assistant general secretary of the influential Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association (ATTSA), too, has demanded 20 per cent bonus for the workers.

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