In a setback for tea plantation workers, the Assam state government has withdrawn a February notification that increased the daily wages by Rs 50. The minimum wage before the Rs 50 interim hike was Rs 167 a day.
The state government had also announced the setting up of a new committee for fixing the minimum wage. BJP MP Pallab Lochan Das, on Friday told the media, that the workers would get Rs 205 a day until the Gauhati High Court decided on a petition before it.
The State Labour Department, in its May 26 order withdrawing the Rs 50 hike, noted that the petition filed by tea estates in the high court challenging the interim wage hike. According to the rules, giving the interim hike requires the setting up of committees and subcommittees and taking their advice. The Labour Department said this process was inadvertently skipped.
Reports point out that the BJP-led Assam government had announced the wage hike for tea garden workers, just ahead of the state elections. This was important as the tea tribe community, comprising 17% of the state’s population, is a deciding factor in almost 40 Assam Assembly seats out of the 126. The community, as per The Indian Express, is spread over 800 tea gardens plus several unorganized small gardens of Assam. But, sadly, it’s marked by exploitation, economic backwardness, poor health conditions and low literacy rates.
The Indian Tea Association and 17 tea companies in a petition had challenged the February 23 notification of the Assam Labour Department. Through the notification, the minimum wage of tea plantation workers was increased from Rs 167 per day to Rs 217 per day by adding an interim amount of Rs 50. The petitioner’s counsel had argued that the notification was illegal in as much as, no Committee/Sub-Committees have been formed as required under Section 5(1/a) and Section 9 of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948.