JORHAT, Aug 23 - Payment of bonus to the tea garden workers in the State before Durga Puja may not be a smooth sailing process this time with two big companies offering to pay bonus at the minimum rate of 8.33 per cent this year.
Both the companies – while the representatives of one company held a discussion with top leaders of Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) on Tuesday, the representatives other company at the union’s central office in Dibrugarh on Wednesday – have cited incurring of ‘huge losses’ in their balance sheets in the last financial year (2016-17).
However, the ACMS leaders have not revealed the names of the companies at this stage. The ACMS, which is the oldest and largest tea workers’ union in the State, on July 5 set the ball rolling of the bonus payment process by writing to the five major tea growers’ associations of Assam to inform their member-estates to announce the quantum of bonus and pay at least three weeks ahead of Durga Puja to fulfil the ‘hopes and aspirations’ of the workers. Durgta Puja commences on September 26 this year.
The letter written by ACMS general secretary, Dileshwar Tanti, had urged the industry to pay the bonus to workers in one go rather than in instalments.
Tanti today told The Assam Tribune that in both the discussions, attended by senior officials of the two Kolkata-based tea companies and the ACMS leaders, that included him and the union president, Paban Singh Ghatowar, the company officials showing balance sheets claimed that incurring of ‘extensive’ losses for which the companies were not in a position to pay bonus at the rate paid in the past few years.
He said that one company cited incurring of Rs 60 crore losses, while the other one cited Rs 57 crore losses. Stating that both the companies last year paid bonus at the maximum rate of 20 per cent, in two instalments – 15 per cent before puja and the remaining five per cent before this year’s Holi celebrations, Tanti said that the union could not ‘accept’ drastic cut in the rate of bonus as that may lead to unrest in the gardens.
The ACMS general secretary said that the union asked both the companies to reconsider their decision and hold talks on the issue after a week, as for the union it will not be possible to convince the workers to agree to a severe reduction in the rate of bonus.
“If we agree to the minimum rate of bonus offered by the companies then other medium and small sized companies and individual gardens in Assam will follow the two companies’ decision,” Tanti said.
He said that they (ACMS) have asked the companies to arrange funds by whatever means possible they could, and come to hold talks on the issue with the union after a week.
“We are demanding the maximum rate of 20 per cent but we are open for negotiations. But agreeing to the minimum level of 8.33 per cent is not acceptable,” Tanti said.
Payment of bonus to industrial employees is mandatory under the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965. As per the Act, employees eligible for bonus have to be paid at a minimum rate of 8.33 per cent and a maximum of 20 per cent on the basis of the employers’ earnings in the previous fiscal year.