GUWAHATI: The State Government announcing 20 per cent bonus for loss-making State-owned ATC gardens has its ripple effects on other tea companies in the State that have expressed its inability to pay 20 per cent bonus this time around, because of their ailing fiscal health. The announcement by the government may give a fresh twist to the bonus issue.
Barely a month is to go for the Durga Puja. The issue of bonus is to be solved and the amount paid to tea estate workers before that. However, as of now nothing tangible has been reached on the issue. Dispur has made it clear that it is not going to interfere on the issue of bonus as, according to the relevant Act, bonus is for the labour associations and the tea estate managements to sort out, amicably.
On the 20 per cent bonus announced by the State government in ATC gardens, a source in the tea management said: “According to the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965, it is mandatory for garden managements to pay at least 8.33 per cent of the basic pay of tea workers as bonus. The percentage of bonus may go up to maximum 20 per cent. However, 20 per cent bonus paid over the years was shown as 20 per cent – which actually comprised a percentage ranging from 8.33 per cent to something below 20 per cent of the basic pay of tea estate workers. To round the figure to 20 per cent, rest of the amount was paid as ex gratia.”
The source said that since the fiscal health of the tea companies has not been sound, this time around they are not in a position to pay ex gratia to round the percentage of bonus to 20 per cent. “We’re going to sort out the matter with labour associations. We may pay 20 per cent bonus in two instalment – one in the Durga Puja and the other in another festival, say the Diwali. It, however, depends on the negotiation.”
Tea Tribe leader Bhagirath Karan, on the other hand, said: “Bonus is a must. Garden managements don’t want to pay 20 per cent bonus on the pretext of making loss. Let them show the balance sheet. The State government doesn’t interfere on the issue of bonus so long there’s no dispute. However, when there’s dispute on bonus, the government has to interfere not to let it escalate the law-and-order situation. What’s significant is that the government is going to pay 20 per cent bonus for the workers of its loss-making ATC gardens.”
A government source said, “We’ve heard the tea estate management’ view of not being able to pay 20 per cent bonus because of loss. We’re keeping a close watch on the situation for a few days – if the two parties converge into an amicable solution or not. If they don’t, we’ll have to step in, not to let law and order to escalate on the issue.”
Assam has as many as 850 registered tea gardens where the issue of bonus is gaining heat every other day. Tea labourers’ associations have already started agitation demanding 20 per cent bonus.