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Gardens face serious threat


Interim wage hike

* Annual production cost will escalate to Rs 1320 crore


GUWAHATI, July 8: Buckling under increasing production cost and low prices of green leaf, the tea industry has told Dispur that many gardens in the State will have to close their shutters if they are forced to pay the interim hike of daily wages of tea workers.

A high-level delegation of Indian Tea Association (ITA) led by its chairman Azam Monem on Saturday rushed to the city from Kolkata on Saturday to meet Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, State Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and State Industries Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary. During the meetings the ITA delegation conveyed to the Chief Minister and his ministerial colleagues about the tea industry’s inability to pay the interim wages hike.

The ITA, the premiere and oldest organization of tea producers of India, told the Government that the industry is under acute stress due to tea process remaining stagnant over the last five years and it is not keeping with the rising cost of production which is affecting its competitiveness.
In what could be termed as the highest-ever pay hike for tea garden workers, the State Government has enhanced their daily wages by an interim amount of Rs 30 per day. The hike will have to be implemented with retrospective effect from March 1 this year. Once the interim hike comes into effect the composite minimum wages of tea workers will stand at around Rs 351 per day. The composite wages include the cash and kind components, including facilities of housing, ration, fuel, etc., provided to the workers.

Arijit Raha, secretary general of ITA told The Sentinel that the total production cost of Assam tea industry will go up to Rs 1320 crore annually owing to interim hike in wages effected by the State Government. He said such hike in total production cost will be a threat to survival of many gardens in the State.

The Indian tea industry with present annual turnover of about Rs 20,000 crore spends nearly Rs 14,000 crore for payment of wages which is 70 per cent of its total earnings. The tea industry currently produces 1320 million kg of tea with Rs 150 as cost of production against per kg of tea.
ITA chairman Azam Monem said even though Assam tea accounts for over 50 per cent of India tea exports, high cost of production and locational disadvantages are adversely affecting the competitiveness of Assam teas in global market.

Terming the ITA’s meetings with Chief Minister Sonowal and Financial Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma as extremely fruitful and positive, Monem said the Government had assured to extend its supports to the tea industry to tide over its present crisis by providing subsidized ration, free medical services and various healthcare schemes, provincialization of garden schools, waiving green leaf cess, etc.

“We will move ahead keeping good faith in the State Government’s assurances to provide the necessary support to the tea industry. We also want to pay enhanced wages to our workers. But at the present juncture it will be difficult to immediately pay the enhanced rates and so we will discuss the issue with labour unions,” Monem said.