NEW DELHI, March 18 – The Centre is likely to amend a crucial legislation having ramifications for the tea industry, with Minister of State for Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya confirming that amendments to the Plantations Labour Act are under examination and if they are received well, then the government would propose amendments for protection of workers also.The Minister clarified that there is no Central Act called the Tea Labour Act. However, there is a Plantations Labour Act, 1951, which is legislated by the Ministry of Labour and Employment and enforced by the state governments. Currently there is no proposal to amend the Plantations Labour Act. However, a proposal has been received from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry for amendment of the Act, which is under examination, he said.
Replying to questions during a Rajya Sabha discussion today, the Minister said a proposal has already come from the Ministry of Commerce. There is a proposal for wages and cash component.
“As far as the proposal for amendment is concerned, we have received comments from the Ministry of Rural Development. On December 16, we had received views of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj. On January 16, we also received views of the Ministry of Environment and Forest on climate change. We have also received the views of the governments of Assam and West Bengal. On March 5, a meeting was held with the Ministry of Development of North-Eastern Region,” Dattatreya said.
Referring to Assam, he said the wage component in the Brahmaputra Valley is Rs 89. The cash component, altogether – foodgrains, royalty, firewood – comes to Rs 2,240. That is why the proposal is that wages should also be above the minimum wage, not merely the minimum wage. Secondly, even the other facilities like housing, medical, insurance, drinking water and education are under examination of different ministries. “Consultations are also going on. An Inter-Ministerial Group has been formed. We are taking different views. We will soon be completing the process,” Dattatreya said.
Even within Assam, there is a difference. In the Brahmaputra Valley the wage component is Rs 89, whereas in the Barak Valley, it is Rs 72, the Minister said.
The wage agreement of March 1, 2012 for daily rated workers of the tea industry in Assam expired on December 3, 2014 and the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) placed their demand for revision of wages. The Government of Assam is aware that certain unions have demanded a hike in wages. The wage agreement for daily rated workers for the tea industry in Assam as per the settlement between the ACMS and the employers’ association, was arrived at, on February 26, Dattatreya informed.
However, the Minister pleaded that under Section 28 of the Minimum Wages Act, the Central Government can only give directions to the state governments because the implementing authority is the state government. That is why, at the national level it is very difficult, he said.
Earlier, Pankaj Bora referred to the problems faced by the tea industry in Assam, saying that the tea workers are very poor. “Even today the take-home pay of a tea garden labourer is hardly seventy rupees a day,” he argued.
Bora wanted to know whether the Union Government was planning to setting up a committee to review the wage structure of the tea garden workers and maintain an equal wage structure throughout the country.
Bora further alleged that though there is a Plantation Labour Act, the managements always violate it.
Participating in the discussion, Sitaram Yechury said it has been a long-standing demand of the tea garden workers that there should be a Central Act for protecting the interest of tea workers. “Will the government, and particularly your ministry, consider the enactment of a Central Act for emoluments and protection of the rights of the tea garden workers? I would like to urge the Labour Department and the ministry to seriously consider the possibility of enacting a Central Tea Plantation Workers’ Wages Act, which must be adhered to by all the states and minimum wages should be provided to them,” he said.