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West Bengal: Minimum wage for BLF workers hiked, owners protest

The owners of BLFs, however, have protested the move and claimed they would be unable to pay the increased minimum wage.

By: Express News Service | Kolkata |
February 13, 2017 12:15:10 am
bought lead factories, bengal labour department, bengal labour, BLF labour wages bengal labour wages, tea production, tea plantation labourers, bengal labourers, BLF labourers wages Photo for representational purpose.

The Bengal labour department has raised the daily minimum wages for workers of bought-leaf-factories (BLFs), units that buy tea leaves from small tea growers. The daily minimum wage for a worker of a BLF in civic bodies, development authorities and industrial townships, also referred to as zone A, has been fixed at `290.23, while the rate is `256.5 in other areas, referred to as zone B. There are over 130 BLFs which have around 40,000 workers, officials said and they buy from around 30,000 small tea growers, accounting for nearly a third of north Bengal’s tea production. Earlier, the minimum wage was `143 for both zones.

The owners of BLFs, however, have protested the move and claimed they would be unable to pay the increased minimum wage. They complained that even though it was claimed to be a tripartite agreement, they were not represented in the committee that fixed the wages.

“It is unfortunate that the entire matter was decided without talking to us or having representation of our interests in the BLFs. We will protest the decision because we can’t pay such high wages,” said a BLF owner from Dinajpur who did not want to be named.

For the past few years, trade unions of tea plantation workers had been demanding minimum wages for the sector. The state labour department formed a 27-member advisory board in February 2015 to recommend the minimum wages. Trade union leaders, representatives of planters’ associations and government officials were on the committee which is yet to make any recommendation.

Mani Kumar Darnal, the joint general secretary of the INTUC-backed National Union of Plantation Workers, said: “It seems the state has finally made a move to fix minimum wages for workers in the tea industry. But there should have been talks at the tripartite level before finalising the minimum wages for BLFs,”

Bought-leaf factories are concentrated in North Dinajpur, Kishanganj, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and at the foothills of Darjeeling hills.

A circular issued on January 29, by the additional labour commissioner of the labour department, said that they had issued a notification last December, stating “minimum rates of wages in the employment of Bought Tea Leaf Factory in the state of West Bengal” had been fixed. As per the circular, the minimum monthly wage has been fixed at `7,546 and `6,669 in zones A and B, respectively. The rates are effective from January 1 to June 30, 2017.

According to officials, the labour department has also mentioned that the weekly wage will be six times the daily pay – ensuring an off day per week, along with stipulating that a normal working day will have eight-and-a-half hours of work, including 30 minutes’ rest.

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